Sustainable, Just, and Democratic
Edited by Melissa K. Scanlan
Chapter 11: The decentralization of food policy and building a stronger food system
The regulation of food in the United States is exceedingly complex. Local, state, and federal regulation coexist, and common law remedies supplement positive law. Strata of regulation are necessary because patterns of production and consumption vary by region and demographic, while federal regulation provides regulatory uniformity across the United States. A system that permits decentralized policymaking, such as the American one, can be a leverage point for change. Recently, several state and local governments in the United States passed laws to address gaps in and perceived problems with federal food policy. Despite, or perhaps because of, their transformative potential, these state and local actions on food policy raise questions about where lies the proper balance between the uniformity and predictability of a national system and the flexibility and responsiveness of local regulation. This chapter discusses some of the problems with the food systems of the United States and the repercussions of these failures, and then explores several more local solutions by looking at this recent state legislation. These laws include a Vermont law mandating the labeling of genetically engineered ingredients, a California law regulating the use of medically important antibiotics in animal feed, the strictest in the country, and several California humane treatment laws. There have been legal challenges to some of these laws in areas where these state actions encroach upon another regulatory authority, whether that of another state or of the federal government. These areas of tension highlight questions about the decentralization of food policy in the United States, including who gets to make policy decisions and the content of these decisions, but these spaces of conflict can also be sources of productivity for the development of food policy. While focused on the United States, the interaction between national and subnational regulatory units in the field of food policy is a matter of relevance to the global community.
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