Authenticating food: trade marks and the legal production of the food chain

ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship

This project investigates the complex interrelationship between food regulation and trade mark law in the United States and the Australia/Asia Pacific region. Specifically, it focuses on the historical co-emergence of these two regulatory systems as well as their continued interplay in diverse areas of law including packaging and labelling law, food standards, consumer protections, and commerce law while linking them to ongoing changes in science, particularly chemistry and the emerging domain of nutrition and food science. In doing so, Authenticating Food documents the various political debates, legal conflicts, and scientific controversies surrounding food and contesting the manner in which it should be tested, classified, defined, and managed. This project aims to demonstrate that the relationship between food’s internal qualities and external identifying markers is fundamentally unstable, its ‘nature’ thoroughly mediated by the legal infrastructure that shape its production, distribution, and consumption along the entirety of the modern industrial food chain.

This project tracks these complex interrelations between science, food regulation, and trade mark law at a number of different historical moments including: 1) the development of California trade mark law in the 1870s and its relation to emerging agricultural industries, 2) the legal production of state and federal Pure Food laws and the in rem cases that they spawned, 3) the growth of the ready-to-eat cereal market, in which major brands simultaneously relied on patent and trade mark law to create new food markets, and 4) contemporary examples in emerging labelling and trade mark law including new systems to identify and track the provenance and transport of foods as well as issues surrounding the labelling of genetically modified, organic, and natural foods. In doing so, the Authenticating Food project contributes to emerging scholarship on science, regulation, and law while drawing from a number of disciplines including legal studies, science and technology studies, cultural studies, and food studies.