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Food Ethics, Traceability and the Regulatory State: Private Governance and Civil Society Trajectories


  • Barling, David


The agri-food sector has undergone both rapid public regulation and private standards setting in the past two decades engendering new forms of governance of food supply chains. Food safety has been at the forefront of these reforms, but increasingly food standards reflect a range of ethical concerns about food production and supply. The communication of standards with ethical implications to consumers relies upon labelling and marketing but is underpinned by schemes of certification and audit, which in turn entail effective systems of traceability of food products. Traceability reaches from food production and movement through the supply chain to the form of the food’s consumption. A feature of contemporary governing has been the development of the regulatory state, where the state seeks to widen and lengthen its governing reach through steering and utilising private forms of governance. The regulatory state directs the private sector to effectively self-regulate food supply chains within legally required standards; but this process of governance can be a contest of differing values. At the European level, the revision of European Union (EU) food law (EC 178/2002) has put traceability at the centre of its reform of the governance of supply chains. The promotion of ethical concerns around food standards has emerged from private governance sources – notably civil society based organisations who have sought to promote both particularistic and broader concerns around food production from animal welfare to fair trade. In the corporate sector both manufacturers and retailers, have taken up a wide range of standards and certification schemes which cover ethical as well as other concerns: from integrated farming processes to food assurance schemes to local food provenance schemes. The unfolding scope and nature of ethical concerns around food are explained below. The role of civil society organisations in promoting new standards for food incorporating ethical criteria points to the inter- relationships of the state (including the EU) with the corporate sector and civil society organisations in the unfolding regulation and governance of food supply chains. These regulatory and governance trajectories are examined in more detail to illustrate the different roles that food traceability is being asked to underpin. Amongst these roles, the EU’s sustainability goals for the agri-food sector inter-relate with ethically informed regulations. Yet such is the dynamic and unfolding nature of these trajectories that public regulation can lag behind the private governance initiatives. The different roles that traceability as a policy and governance instrument is being called upon to deliver are dynamic and unfolding. There is an increasing traceability burden and so challenges for both public regulators and private managers of food supply chains.

Suggested Citation

  • Barling, David, 2009. "Food Ethics, Traceability and the Regulatory State: Private Governance and Civil Society Trajectories," 2009 International European Forum, February 15-20, 2009, Innsbruck-Igls, Austria 58709, International European Forum on System Dynamics and Innovation in Food Networks.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:iefi09:58709

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    Agribusiness; Agricultural and Food Policy; Farm Management; Food Consumption/Nutrition/Food Safety; Food Security and Poverty; Political Economy;

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