Ethical Rooms for Maneuver and Their Prospects Vis-à-vis the Current Ethical Food Policies in Europe

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Abstract

In this paper I want to show that consumer concerns can be implemented in food chains by organizing ethical discussions of conflicting values that include them as participators. First, it is argued that there are several types of consumer concerns about food and agriculture that are multi-interpretable and often contradict each other or are at least difficult to reconcile without considerable loss. Second, these consumer concerns are inherently dynamic because they respond to difficult and complex societal and technological situations and developments. For example, because of the rising concern with global warming, carbon dioxide absorption of crops is now attracting public attention, which means that new requirements are being proposed for the environmentally friendly production of crops. Third, there are different types of consumers, and their choices between conflicting values differ accordingly. Consumers use different weighing models and various types of information in making their food choices. Changing food chains more in accordance with consumer concerns should at least take into account the multi-interpretable, dynamic, and pluralist features of consumer concerns, for example, in traceability schemes. In discussing usual approaches such as codes, stakeholder analysis, and assurance schemes, I conclude that these traditional approaches can be helpful. However, in cases of dynamic, pluralistic, and uncertain developments, maintaining some pre-existing evaluating scheme or some clear cut normative hierarchy, such as codes or assurance schemes, can be disastrous in undermining new ethical desirable initiatives. Instead of considering ethical standards and targets as fixed, which is done with codes and schemes, it is more fruitful to emphasize the structure of the processes in which ethical weighing of relevant consumer concerns get shaped. The concept of “Ethical Room for Maneuver” (ERM) is constructed to specify the ethical desirable conditions under which identification and weighing of paramount values and their dilemmas can be processed. The main aims of the ERM are making room in all the links of the food chain for regulating and implementing the relevant consumer concerns by (1) balancing and negotiating, (2) supporting information systems that are relevant and communicative for various consumer groups and (3) organizing consumer involvement in the links of the food chain. The social and political context of agriculture and food production, particularly in Europe, gives ample opportunity for implementing several types of Ethical Rooms for Maneuver. Finally, I discuss several types of Ethical Rooms for Manoeuvre in the food chains that can be communicated by means of specific traceability schemes to less involved stakeholders with the potential consequence that the stakeholders will be motivated to be more involved.

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