Subproject 4

Food Safety and the Controversial Interaction of Risk Analysis and Intuition

Prof. Dr. Jutta Roosen

Christine Haßauer

Food safety is of great societal importance. It primarily serves the purpose of protecting human life and health, which are vulnerable to the acute and long-term consequences of eating unsafe food. Food safety is also significant in economic terms, because products involved in food scandals can cause tremendous economic losses and distort international trade.

On account of this, societal and economic role, there are demands for evidence that a food is safe not only at the national but also at the international level. For example, the World Trade Organization Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement defines the nature of evidence that is accepted when a country imposes a non-tariff trade barrier. Consequently, the method of risk analysis comprising the steps of risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication has emerged as a recognized practice in the regulatory context since the 1980s. However, the associated mobilization of scientific knowledge to assess food risks has increasingly been questioned by many members of the consumer society. Intuitive mechanisms of risk perception appear to be gaining in importance with regard to the production of evidence for safe food, even in political debates and regulatory initiatives.

Against this background, the project examines how scientific public and consumer public negotiate different forms of evidence in their discourses on food safety. The study will uncover the role of alternative approaches to the description of food safety based on document analysis, expert interviews, and focus groups with consumers. The project considers the development of evidence for food safety since the beginning of the BSE crisis in the mid-1990s, and focuses on the particular role of risk communication, which is defined as a continuous, interactive dialogue between scientists, regulators, and consumers. The project complements the research group to the effect that two opposing dynamics clash in the field of food safety: namely the globalization and standardization of food markets on the one hand and the moralization of food consumption on the other hand. Owing to these conflicting trends, evidence for food safety continues to be a contested policy issue.