Food Systems Law from Farm to Fork and Beyond

65 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2015

See all articles by Steph Tai

Steph Tai

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: February 20, 2015


In urging “responsible eating,” food writer Wendell Berry once wrote, “I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act.” Yet the legal world has long treated food and agriculture as separate spheres. Food law in the United States has traditionally been viewed as the area of law related to the development and marketing of final food products, while agricultural law has been viewed as the area of law relevant to farmers and rangers, agri-businesses, and food processing and marketing firms. But more recently, both policymakers and scholars have been taking a more systems-oriented approach to food regulation through the re-framing of food and agricultural law into a broader food systems law. In particular, a number of legal scholars working in these areas have begun merging the fields of food law and agricultural law — as well as components of other fields of law — into something perhaps greater than the sum of its parts: a field of law that examines food systems as an interactive whole, rather than as individual components of the farm-to-fork process.

This Article is the first of a two-part project. This part explores trends in agricultural and food law scholarship to argue that a nascent integrated approach, one that is more systems-oriented, is developing within current legal scholarship. The Article begins by providing some broader context on systems-oriented approaches to understanding food, drawing from food policy and environmental policy literature. It next briefly describes the different origins and coverage of early agricultural law and food law, situating the distinct historical and theoretical foundations of agricultural law and food law into the broader literature of legal taxonomy. It then illustrates developing trends in scholarly articles, legal casebooks, and other law school institutional coverage to suggest the convergence of these two areas into a broader, more systems-oriented approach. Finally, the Article highlights distinctive features that might arise out of a more deliberate development of systems-oriented approach in this legal field. It argues that such an approach may provide insights into other cross-cutting areas of legal scholarship that the separated areas of food law and agricultural law cannot provide. In doing so, this Article lays the groundwork for the next part of this project, which presents case studies to provide a more complete an analysis of the benefits that would arise from such an approach and uses systems theory to develop important considerations for the deliberate cultivation of food systems law as a field of law.

Keywords: food, agriculture, food systems, legal taxonomy, legal academic taxonomy, food law and policy, food law, agricultural law

JEL Classification: K32, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Tai, Steph, Food Systems Law from Farm to Fork and Beyond (February 20, 2015). Seton Hall Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2015, Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1344, Available at SSRN:

Steph Tai (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

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Madison, WI 53706
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