Markets, Monocultures, and Malnutrition: Agricultural Trade Policy Through an Environmental Justice Lens

38 Pages Posted: 16 May 2007 Last revised: 20 Jan 2014


Much of the literature on environmental justice struggles in the United States and in the Global South has highlighted the disproportionate concentration of environmental hazards in poor communities and communities of color. However, it is equally important to evaluate how human societies distribute access to environmental necessities , such as food and water. Food is a quintessential environmental necessity that is critical human survival, and the right to food is recognized under under a vareity of international human rights law instruments.

This article examines the complex ways in which the rules governing international trade in agricultural products affect the fundamental human right to food. The article argues that colonialism and post-colonial trade, aid and development policies have created and institutionalized a double standard in the regulatory regime governing international agricultural trade: protectionism in wealthy, developed countries; trade liberalization in poor, developing countries. As a consequence of this double standard, agribusiness in the developed world is wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of poor farmers in the developing world by dumping agricultural products on world markets at depressed prices. "Leveling the playing field" by imposing the same free market reforms on rich and poor nations is not sufficient to address the underlying structural inequities that perpetuate poverty, hunger, and environmental degradation. The article proposes an asymmetrical set of trading rules that would require developed countries to eliminate agricultural protectionism while giving developing countries the policy flexibility to use certain protectionist instruments to promote economic development, enhance food security, and protect the environment. The article concludes with observations about the meaning of environmental justice at the international level.

Keywords: WTO, environmental justice, trade policy, IMF, World Bank, structural adjustment, international law, trade law, environmental law, development law, food security, agricultural law, human rights law

JEL Classification: F13, F18, F54, Q17, Q56, N50, O24, K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Gonzalez, Carmen G., Markets, Monocultures, and Malnutrition: Agricultural Trade Policy Through an Environmental Justice Lens. Michigan State University College of Law Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, p. 345, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Carmen G. Gonzalez (Contact Author)

Seattle University School of Law ( email )

901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA n/a 98122-1090
United States

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