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Balancing On-Farm Food Safety and Environmental Protection: A Comparative Case Study of Leafy Greens Producers in the United States and the United Kingdom


In the last decade, high-volume industrial production of fresh leafy greens including spinach and romaine lettuce has become increasingly linked to outbreaks of dangerous foodborne pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7. Current approaches to food safety risk management seek to prevent the introduction of pathogens at field level, through wildlife exclusion practices and the removal of habitat near farms, which can damage environmental conservation efforts. Farmers must balance multiple overlapping requirements coming from government regulation and privately-operated food safety standards, in which food safety concerns may be given priority over environmental sustainability.

Improving food safety in fresh leafy greens without compromising environmental health will require policy solutions that consider the structural roots of food safety problems, and how food safety regulation impacts farmers. This dissertation presents an international comparative policy case study of leafy greens production in the United States and the United Kingdom, in which I evaluate public and private risk management mechanisms that have combined to shape national approaches to food safety, in the context of current political and regulatory trends. Deepening traditional comparative politics literature, this study draws on a structural comparison of public and private standards and interviews with leafy greens producers in both nations to illuminate the social and environmental impacts of various regulatory mechanisms. I demonstrate that food safety standards containing a balance of process-oriented and prescriptive requirements, and a balance between food safety and environmental concerns, are correlated with more environmentally friendly agricultural practices and more favorable farmer perceptions of food safety regulation. From a perspective situated at the convergence of agri-food studies, regulatory practice, and comparative policy, I suggest regulatory changes and supply chain solutions for balancing food safety and environmental sustainability.

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