How Organic Inspectors Understand Their Role

    As regulatory designs become increasingly complex, the forms and functions of regulatory inspectors are evermore multifaceted. In the realm of organic certification, for example, some inspectors are full-time employees of a single organic certifier, some work part-time, and many work on a contract basis for several certifiers throughout a year. In an article published in Regulation & Governance, I look at how organic inspectors negotiate and internalize the potentially conflicting demands of this decentralized program context, and whether the responsibilities that they prioritize shape their propensity to adhere more strictly or loosely to organic regulations.

    Using data collected through a survey of organic inspectors, combined with in-depth interviews, study findings indicate that organic inspectors appear to see themselves first as regulatory monitors of national organic standards, second as representatives of their employing certification organizations, and third as service providers to regulatee operations. In general, organic inspectors seem to oppose the application of inspector discretion when it comes to regulatory interpretation or the reporting of record keeping and noncompliance issues. For organic food proponents, the findings join my other research findings in suggesting that despite its complex structure, organic food regulation in the U.S. seems to be notably high in both regulatory consistency and integrity. For scholars, the findings add support to a growing body of empirical research that counters “conventional” predictions of street-level divergence from policy goals.

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