Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 313–324 | Cite as

The Struggle over Functional Foods: Justice and the Social Meaning of Functional Foods

  • Michiel Korthals


The social and scientific debate overfunctional foods has two focal points: one isthe issue of the reliability andtrustworthiness of the claims connected withfunctional foods. You don't have to be asuspicious person to be skeptical vis-à-visthe rather exorbitant claims of most functionalfoods. They promise prevention against allkinds of illnesses and enhancement ofachievements like memory and vision, withouthaving been tested adequately. The second issueis the issue of the socio-cultural dimension offunctional foods and their so calleddetrimental effect on the social and normativemeanings of food, with possibly the effect thatfood in general will be treated like amedicine, with radical individualizing effects.Finally, individuals would only be allowed toeat what their gene-profile prescribes them. Inthis paper, it is argued that food is anon-neutral public good that contributesinherently to the identity of vulnerableindividuals. It should be treated in anon-neutral, but impartial way. Therefore,politics need to intervene in food markets froma justice and ethical point of view with twoaims in mind. The first aim (as an implicationof justice considerations) should be toestablish safety conditions, and to identifyand monitor food safety standards in anobjective and impartial way. Preventive medicalclaims of foods should be allowed on the basisof appropriate and objective testing methods.The second aim (as an implication of ethicalconsiderations) should be to shape conditionsfor a cohabitation of various food styles,including that of functional foods. Moreover,the cultural and symbolic meaning of food in apluralistic society requires that the differentfood styles find some modus of living andinteracting together. As long as functionalfoods comply with safety standards and respectother food styles, they should be allowed onthe market, just like any other food product.

deliberative ethics functional foods justice 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michiel Korthals
    • 1
  1. 1.Applied PhilosophyWageningen University and ResearchcentreWageningenNetherlands, E-mail

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