The Role of Food Safety Risks in Facilitating Agricultural Transitions: Alternative Beef Production in Alberta, Canada

Friday, July 18, 2014: 11:45 AM
Room: F202
Oral Presentation
Debra DAVIDSON , Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Kevin JONES , City Region Studies Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
John PARKINS , University of Alberta, Canada
Alternative beef production in the Province of Alberta, Canada is evaluated in the context of recent discussions of sustainability transitions. By combining the insights of Archer’s sociological Reflexivity/Morphogenesis Theory with Sustainability Transitions Theory, we analyze the findings of a qualitative case study comparing the interviews of conventional and alternative beef producers, treating alternative beef production as a niche operating within the dominant regime of global industrial agri-business. In particular, we highlight the role of food safety crisis events in niche dynamics. Among our key findings are that food safety crisis events—some of which emerge as a direct consequence of the socio-ecological contradictions embedded in industrial agriculture—represent opportunity windows for the further establishment of system niches with the potential for contributing to sustainability transition. Further, the anticipated common identity among niche producers was not borne out empirically; to the contrary, producers are motivated to support this niche on the basis of a wide diversity of histories and sentiments. Finally, our study raises the possibility that the long-term viability of alternative agriculture sectors may well depend upon their stabilization as niches, rather than their expansion.