When foods become animals: Ruminations on Ethics and Responsibility in Care- full practices of consumption

Ethics, Policy and Environment 13 (2):171-190 (2011)
Abstract
Providing information to consumers in the form of food labels about modern systems of animal farming is believed to be crucial for increasing their awareness of animal suffering and for promoting technological change towards more welfare-friendly forms of husbandry (CIWF, 2007). In this paper we want to explore whether and how food labels carrying information about the lives of animals are used by consumers while shopping for meat and other animal foods. In order to achieve this, we draw upon a series of focus group discussions that were held in Italy as part of a large EU funded project (Welfare Quality?). In the focus group discussions we addressed how, when or if, claims made about the lives of animals on food labels intervened in what the participants bought and ate. We contend that such labels bring the lives of animals to the forefront and act as new ?subjectifiers? (Latour, 2005: 212) that offer a new tool for becoming an ?ethically competent consumer?, who cares about the lives of animals while shopping for food. However, this offer is not always easily accommodated within existing competences and previous commitments, as it requires a reassessment of existing, and often intimate, practices of shopping, cooking and eating. We argue that new labels carrying welfare claims, with their intention of increasing market transparency, produce two contrasting outcomes: they open new spaces of action, which offer an opportunity for investing in new competences and for engaging with animal welfare issues, in short, they allow an ?ethically competent consumer? to emerge, but they also produce another outcome, or a collateral casualty (Bauman, 2007), namely the ethically non-competent consumer. ?In daily matters, be competent? (From How to live ethically, the Tao Te Ching)
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