[en] Recent debates concerning organic food systems have focused on the conventionalisation hypothesis that posits that the organic food sector has become increasingly divided between “historical” players in the organic movement, on one side, and by distributors and industrial operators recently arrived in the sector, on the other side, who practice a more conventionalised form of organic agriculture that is now gaining popularity. The most prominent explanations for the growth and dominance of a conventionalised organic food system have been economic, based on the logic of input costs, especially land rent. We use the case of the Belgian Blue commodity system and the Belgian organic beef commodity system to argue that conventionalisation is also cognitive. To understand the role of cognition in the rise of the conventional organic food sector, we use the concept of a system of cognitive references, as developed by Muller and Jobert. We believe that comparing organic and conventional practices as two cognitive reference systems allows for a deeper understanding of conventionalisation. This occurs in two ways: first, because it makes it clear that the two systems coexist on a cognitive level, understood in a broad sense as tightly-knit sets of knowledge, beliefs, standards, and images, and, second, because the concept of a reference system makes it possible to understand how the conventional system can become irreversible (lock-in effect) and thus incompatible with the development of the organic system.
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