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Sustainable Food Systems in the Age of the SDGs: Why Global Standardization and Benchmarking might pose Challenges for Sustainable Development

Development
Globalisation
International Relations
NGOs
Sandra Schwindenhammer
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
Sandra Schwindenhammer
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen

Abstract

The concept of sustainable food systems is currently a major topic of debate in the context of the SDGs. While SDG 2 aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, SDG 12 intends to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. The targets promoted in SDG 2 and 12 are complex and interdependent. The debate on sustainable food systems has brought up contradictory views on the guiding norms of the global food regime (food security, food sovereignty, and sustainability) and appropriate policy tools to realize the SDGs. SDG 17 promotes institutional coherence, global multi-stakeholder partnerships, and systematic data collection. Global benchmarking and standardization seem to be promising policy tools to measure and enhance the sustainability performance and transparency of food systems. Both approaches allow for the systematic comparison of performance data, and to identify, adapt and implement best or standardized practice. In recent years, one can observe the spread of global frameworks to harmonize and integrate food standard-setting and benchmarking schemes, metrics and tools. Building on IR research on global norm contestation, governance through standards, norm-entrepreneurialism and political authority, the paper conducts a qualitative comparative analysis of two global food policy approaches - the universal framework for Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) and the Global Organic Market Access Project (GOMA). The paper analyses how these frameworks contribute to alterations of the normative foundations of sustainable food systems. It reveals the promotion of context-specific understandings of sustainability, the adaptation of different practices of sustainable food production and processing, and the key role of public and private norm entrepreneurs that succeed in promoting policy solutions in the light of their normative orientations and interests. The paper has three purposes in the light of the ongoing debate on sustainable food systems: i) to serve the need for more critical norm research, ii) to locate the policy approaches of standardization and benchmarking in the context of conceptual debates about global norm contestation and norm entrepreneurship, and iii) to outline future areas of research in the light of the empirical results.