Food, consumer concerns, and trust: Food ethics for a globalizing market [Book Review]

Abstract

The use of biotechnology in food productiongives rise to consumer concerns. The term ``consumerconcern'' is often used as a container notion. Itincludes concerns about food safety, environmental andanimal welfare consequences of food productionsystems, and intrinsic moral objections againstgenetic modification. In order to create clarity adistinction between three different kinds of consumerconcern is proposed. Consumer concerns can be seen assigns of loss of trust. Maintaining consumer trustasks for governmental action. Towards consumerconcerns, governments seem to have limitedpossibilities for public policy. Under current WTOregulations designed to prevent trade disputes,governments can only limit their policies to 1) safetyregulation based upon sound scientific evidence and 2)the stimulation of a system of product labeling. Ananalysis of trust, however, can show that ifgovernments limit their efforts in this way, they willnot do enough to avoid the types of consumer concernsthat diminish trust. The establishment of a technicalbody for food safety – although perhaps necessary –is in itself not enough, because concerns that relatedirectly to food safety cannot be solved by ``pure''science alone. And labeling can only be a good way totake consumer concerns seriously if these concerns arerelated to consumer autonomy. For consumer concernsthat are linked to ideas about a good society,labeling can only provide a solution if it is seen asan addition to political action rather than as itssubstitution. Labeling can help consumers take uptheir political responsibility. As citizens, consumershave certain reasonable concerns that can justifiableinfluence the market. In a free-market society, theyare, as buyers, co-creators of the market, andsocietal steering is partly done by the market.Therefore, they need the information to co-create thatmarket. The basis of labeling in these cases, however,is not the good life of the individual but thepolitical responsibility people have in their role asparticipants in a free-market. Then, public concernsare taken seriously. Labeling in that case does nottake away the possibilities of reaching politicalgoals, but it adds a possibility.

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Frans Brom
Utrecht University

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