[en] Recent conversations concerning organic food systems have focused on the conventionalization hypothesis, which posits that the organic food sector has become increasingly bifurcated between “historical” players in the organic movement on one side, and on the other by distributors and industrial operators recently arrived in the sector, who practice a more conventionalized form of organic agriculture which is now on the ascendancy. The most prominent explanations for the growth and dominance of a conventionalized organic food system have been economic, based in the logics of input costs, especially land rent. We use the cases of the Belgian Blue commodity system and the Belgian organic beef commodity system to argue that conventionalization is also cognitive. To understand the role of cognition in the ascendance of the conventional organic food sector, we utilize concept of “référentiel”—or system of cognitive references—as developed by Muller and Jobert. We believe that comparing organic and conventional practices as two systems of cognitive references makes a deeper understanding of conventionalization possible 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 knowledges, beliefs, standards, and images. Secondly, the concept of référentiel enables one 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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