In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation creating the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which was charged with making laws to protect the agricultural trades and ensuring food quality and safety. The job of overseeing food quality and safety had a strong, standardized, scientific component housed within the USDA. This was the situation until the advent of organic farming in the 1940s and the growing popularity of halal and kosher foods in the US. The USDA was not equipped to objectively define and consequently assess the standards for these specialty foods: there was a fair amount of disagreement about what constituted "organic" food, and it would be impossible for the USDA to oversee every halal and kosher practice. Carter (political science, Univ. of Utah) delivers a fascinating, detailed account of how the USDA made use of outside entities to develop guidelines and standards for certifying these foods. The author provides critical analyses of the benefits and risks of using these entities to determine parameters of food quality and safety. The book includes many case studies and references to prime sources, and it makes mention of the impact of genetic engineering on food production practices.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.— Choice
Regulation by Proxy is both empirical and theoretical, making it useful to those interested in the regulatory process and regulatory theory. It makes important contributions to both the narrower topic of organic regulation and the broader discussions of regulatory policy. In a time when many are questioning the legitimacy of the organic food label, the book offers measured reassurance. . . Toward the end of the book, Carter states that he set out “to conduct the most thorough analysis possible of the complex regulatory architecture by which organic food is governed in the U.S.” (p. 199). On all counts, he has succeeded.