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J Exp Bot. 2011 Jun;62(10):3247-50. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erq439. Epub 2011 Jan 14.

Food standards: the cacophony of governance.

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ESRC Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen), Institute for Advanced Studies, County South, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YD, UK.


Although long distance trade in food goes back at least as far as Columbus, the recent wave of food globalization is unprecedented in human history. But despite the existence of the Codex Alimentarius, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Trade Organization, there is no central authority that governs the many facets of food. Instead, we have arrived at a food network that is governed by a plethora of public and private standards including those for productivity, food safety, food quality, packaging, and nutritional value. However, standards are both epistemological and ontological devices; they make the realities that they claim to describe. Moreover, once accepted they tend to become 'second nature,' often obscuring growing problems and conflicts, including (perhaps especially) those arising out of the very standards themselves. On the one hand, standards for productivity obscure the weak and rapidly eroding premises on which current productivity is based. On the other hand, standards for quality tend to rigidify production regimes. Both tend to inhibit innovations of the sort necessary for us to realize food security globally.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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