The capitalist composition of organic: The potential of markets in fulfilling the promise of organic agriculture

Patricia Allen, Martin Kovach

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

235 Scopus citations


Observers of agriculture and the environment have noted the recent remarkable growth of the organic products industry. Is it possible for this growth in the organics market to contribute to progressive environmental and social goals? From the perspective of green consumerism, the organics market is a powerful engine for positive change because it promotes greater environmental awareness and responsibility among producers and consumers alike. Given its environmental benefits and its ability to use and alter capitalist markets, organic agriculture is currently a positive force for environmentalism. Still, there are contradictions between organic ideals and practice - e.g., the reductionism of organic standards, the limitations of private organic certification, and the widespread practice of input-substitution - that emerge through the dynamics of the capitalist market. As the market matures, these contradictions will increasingly undermine the very environmental benefits that are the foundation of organic agriculture. Fundamental change, therefore, is not likely to occur through the market alone. There are ways, however, that the organics market could contribute to a broader movement leading to collective action. For instance, the organics market tends to undermine commodity fetishism in the agrifood system, thereby strengthening civil society. In addition, the market provides space and resources for social movement activity, such as in the struggle over the National Organic Standards.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-232
Number of pages12
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Commodity fetishism
  • Ecological soundness
  • Green consumerism
  • Input substitution
  • National Organic Standards
  • Organic agriculture
  • Organic agriculture - environmental benefits
  • Organic agriculture - scientific justification
  • Organic agriculture growth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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