Food Sustainability in the Age of Complex, Global Supply Chains

17 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2019 Last revised: 23 Sep 2019

See all articles by Steph Tai

Steph Tai

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: 2018


Food production has become more complex over time. Moreover, we are producing food in an increasingly global, rather than local, manner. How can demands for sustainability be reinforced in this age of complex, global supply chains? This essay focuses on three key features of the modern food supply chain: the variety of components, the complexity of the chain itself, and diversity of “enforcement” mechanisms in food production supply chains. These features suggest that traditional governmental tools (such as command and control measures) and contractual tools (such as performance standards) may not be sufficient to ensure sustainable production methods.

Instead, I argue that sustainability advocates should focus on identifying points within supply chain systems that they can use to leverage greater accountability from the supply chain actors with respect to sustainability. Drawing from Donella Meadows’s insights into systems analysis, this essay argues that such advocates should devote their efforts towards urging global actors to incorporate traceability, transparency, and third-party participation mechanisms into their supply chain contracts. It uses various case studies to highlight how—when such mechanisms have been incorporated—nongovernmental organizations have been able to more effectively ensure the sustainability considerations in supply chain governance. Thus, by concentrating on such areas, rather than focusing solely on traditional control measures, advocates will be more effective in incorporating sustainability into food production processes.

Keywords: supply chains, food production, systems analysis, traceability, transparency, third-party participation mechanisms, supply chain contracts, sustainability

Suggested Citation

Tai, Steph, Food Sustainability in the Age of Complex, Global Supply Chains (2018). 71 Ark. L. Rev. 465 (2018), Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1460, Available at SSRN:

Steph Tai (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

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