Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 255–265 | Cite as

Food Safety, Quality, and Ethics – A Post-normal Perspective

  • Jerome R. Ravetz


I argue that the issues of foodquality, in the most general sense includingpurity, safety, and ethics, can no longer beresolved through ``normal'' science andregulation. The reliance on reductionistscience as the basis for policy andimplementation has shown itself to beinadequate. I use several borderline examplesbetween drugs and foods, particularly coffeeand sucrose, to show that ``quality'' is now acomplex attribute. For in those cases thesubstance is either a pure drug, or a bad foodwith drug-like properties; both are marketed asif they were foods. An example of theinadequacy of old ways of thinking is obesity,whose causes are as yet outside the purview ofmedicine, while its effects constitute anepidemic disease. The new drug/food syndromeneeds a new sort of science, what we call``post-normal.'' This is inquiry at the contestedinterfaces of science and policy; typically itdeals with issues where facts are uncertain,values in dispute, stakes high, and decisionsurgent. With the perspective of post-normalscience, we can better understand some keyissues. We see that ``safety'' is different from``risk,'' being pragmatic, moral, and recursive.Also, we understand that an appropriatefoundation for regulation and ethics is not somuch ``objectivity'' as ``awareness.'' In an agewhen ``consumers'' are becoming concerned``citizens,'' the relevant science must becomepost-normal.

ethics food safety post-normal science quality 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jerome R. Ravetz
    • 1
  1. 1.The Research Methods Consultancy Ltd.LondonUK, E-mail:

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