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Globalisation and regulation of food risks. A theoretical overview.

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Introduction

Globalisation and regulation of food risks. A theoretical overview. Paper for the Conference in Chiang Mai 'Changing environmental governance in Asia. Globalization industrial transformation and new state-society relations'. 11-12 October 2003 Peter Oosterveer Environmental Policy Group Wageningen University1 Abstract. As globalisation process covers more and more aspects of life and includes food, it becomes increasingly important to develop consistent theoretical perspectives on this process. In this paper I will first identify different theoretical views on globalisation and build on the views of Giddens and Castells to analyse the globalisation of food production and consumption. This will lead to the identification of structural tensions in the regulatory options in this globalising agri-food networks. The concept of agri-food networks is introduced to analyse the tension between global and local regulation of food production and consumption. 1. Introduction. Regulating the environmental consequences of food production and consumption as well as the safety of food is no longer the sole responsibility of independent national states. The development and implementation of the regulation of food is increasingly influenced by processes in other, sometimes distant, places. Global trade, including food trade, has grown rapidly during the last decades leading to a search for new ways to regulate the impacts on the environment and safety of food production and consumption. Thus the regulation of food is globalising, like many other aspects of people's lives and understanding the changing practices of regulation needs to based on a consistent social science analysis. There are however different theoretical perspectives on globalisation within the social sciences and I will review them to identify the most promising views to analyse the regulation of food risks. Whereas some theorists see globalisation as an unequivocal process towards a global world economy, others like Giddens and Castells regard it as a much more diverse and contingent process and their views offer more tools for analysing regulation of food risks at the beginning of the early 21st century. ...read more.

Middle

This new phase in modernity, is called reflexive modernisation because reflexivity refers to the constant re-examining and reshaping of social practices in the light of new incoming information about those very practices. Reflexive modernisation marks the end of the idea that social and natural environments will be increasingly subjected to rational ordering. (Giddens 1990, 1991, 1994 and Mol 2001) Uncertainty and anxiety are becoming central features in reflexive modernity and everybody is concerned with global environmental risks. Although unequal distributions of these risks are still very relevant, they follow new distributional patterns and not the traditional class-based ones (Beck 1999 and Mol, 2001, p. 81). Increased uncertainty and anxiety in globalising societies can have profound social and individual consequences (see Bauman 2000). Castells (1997) uses the concept of 'network society' to characterise globalisation in combination with the notions timeless time and space of flows. The network society is a society where a 'networked, ahistorical space of flows is aiming at imposing its logic over scattered, segmented places, increasingly unrelated to each other, less and less able to share cultural codes' (Castells 1997, p. 428). Timeless time refers to the de-linking of time from social processes, while the space of flows refers to the de-linking of social behaviour from specific geographical locations. According to Castells, physical space is less and flows are becoming more important: space of flows. Applying this thesis to agri-food networks, this means that the physical distance between food production and consumption is of less relevance than in the past, while the flow of information is becoming much more important. This process is the consequence of increased communication, decreasing costs and time of transport, and improved ways to maintain the quality of food products. This is both true for the mass production of raw material (soybeans, maize) as inputs for food production in general as well as for high quality products, like tropical fruits and vegetables. ...read more.

Conclusion

10 It would for example be incomprehensible to think about how 'fair trade' coffee production and consumption would have looked like in 1859, although this is the year when Multatuli first published his book: 'Max Havelaar'. The Max Havelaar trademark was only used for fair trade coffee in 1986. Fair trade coffee is only possible in the modern globalised coffee-network. 11 See also the observation by Gorris (2002, p. 9): 'In 1991, the FAO and the WHO communicated that transparent, science-based and internationally recognised standard approaches to risk assessment are needed and that they should be consistently applied across the board .' 12 See again Gorris (2002, p. 19): 'A risk can only be characterised truly in it's particular context.' 13 A challenging question is whether re-embedding agri-food networks in ecological and social conditions of production can be achieved via changes at the market level alone, or whether new consumer/producer links form an essential part. (Raynolds, 2000. P. 299) If this latter is the case regulation in place would be even more different from regulation in flows. 14 These initiatives are greatly enhanced by the rise of global information technology. Communication and the distribution of information have become easily accessible and at much lower costs than 10 years ago. 15 Organic agriculture represents a system of farm management based on natural methods of enhancing soil fertility and resisting disease, rejection of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, and minimisation of damage to the environment and wildlife. And fair trade tries to transform North/South trade to a vehicle of sustainable development. (Raynolds, 2000) 16 'Around 3.800 additives are used in our daily food, for three basic purposes. First, there are cosmetic chemicals that make products look more attractive to the senses, especially colouring agents, flavours, sweeteners and texture modifiers, such as emulsifiers and stabilisers. Second, there are preservatives, including antioxidants and sequestrants, which add life to a product. Third, processing aids assist the manufacturing process, for instance by preventing food from sticking to machinery. About 380 of these additives had officially been approved by the EU by 1987.' (Atkins and Bowler, (2001) p. 215) 23 1 ...read more.

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