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Beyond the "Standards" debate. Conventions in the import of organic food to Germany and Australia (ImPOrt)

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Product safety, quality control and transparency in cross-border trade along the supply chain are becoming increasingly important issues, especially as chains become longer, more international and more anonymous. The trade of organic food, a highly sensitive product group, currently sees the special situation that demand exceeds local supply in many highly developed countries. The necessity for imports thus increases while competition for the resources available is growing.

The aim of this project is to analyse and compare different quality coordination mechanisms in cross-border trade by the cases of German and Australian importers of organics. It recognises their direct interaction with suppliers abroad, as well as their involvement with other stakeholders which help them to assure product quality and flow. 

A focus lies on analysing the influence of respective national and international institutional conventions into which the importers are embedded, while looking not only at ‘formal’ institutions such as import regulations or organic standards, but also at 'informal’ institutions such as norms and values, trust, product image or communication flows. It is postulated that changes of institutions over time also have an impact on quality coordination mechanisms within the supply chain. On a practical level, results can provide efficient strategies to help find sustainable and ’safe’ solutions to meeting local demand through imports under different national (institutional) circumstances.


Principal investigator:Prof. Dr. Boris Braun, Institute of Geography, University of Cologne
Research fellow:  M. A. Amelie Bernzen, PhD candidate, Institute of Geography, University of Cologne
Student assistant: 

Nils Linden, B.Sc.

Academic partners

Paul KristiansenPhD, Senior Lecturer/ Convener, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, School of Environmental and Rural Sciences, University of New England, Armidale, Australia
Bill PritchardAssociate Professor, PhD, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, Australia

Peter Dannenberg

PD PhD, habil., Institute of Geography, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany


The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) for 24 months from 2010 to August 2012.


The overall objective of this project is to gain an improved understanding of how institutional conventions influence sourcing strategies of highly sensitive products across national borders. The major aim is to identify the relative role of formal vs. informal institutional conventions on coordination mechanisms within transnational supply chain relations. A practical outcome would be to provide recommendations to actors along the supply chain on how securing quality standards of these products can be achieved in cross-border trade by means of suitable institutional arrangements.

Further objectives to be addressed in the light of this overall objective are:

  • Determine the composition and relevance of individual conventions within the coordination mechanism of organic imports.
  • Determine how (quality) coordination mechanisms differ between importers of convention-al chains, and actors of more alternative chains.
  • Determine in how far national institutions explain differences in (dominating) coordination mechanisms between two countries.

Project-related publications

BERNZEN, A. (2013): Ökologische Landwirtschaft und Ernährungssicherheit. Geographische Rundschau 65(12), 54-57.

BERNZEN, A. & B. BRAUN (forthcoming): Conventions in cross-border trade coordination. The case of organic food imports to Germany and Australia. Environment and Planning A.

BERNZEN, A. (2013): Staatliche Regulierung von Bio-Standards – Fluch oder Segen für Handel und Vermarktung? Ein deutsch-australischer Vergleich. In: FRANZ, M. (ed.): Liefernetzwerke im Einzelhandel. Reihe Geographische Handelsforschung 18. Mannheim (Metagis Verlag): 37-60.

BERNZEN, A. & B. PRITCHARD (2012): Australien als Global Food Superpower? Landwirtschaft und Lebensmittelsektor Australiens im Wandel. Geographische Rundschau63(10), 20-28.

BERNZEN, A. (2012): Organic Standards and Global Value Chain Governance: The EU and Australian Situation Compared. In: FARMAR-BOWERS, Q., HIGGINS, V. and J. MILLAR (eds.): Food Security in Australia. New York (Springer): 281-296.

BERNZEN, A. & P. DANNENBERG (2012): Ein "Visum" für Obst. Umwelt- und Sozialstandards im internationalen Lebensmittelhandel. Geographische Rundschau 64(3), 44-52.