Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Consumer Concerns Relating to Food Labeling and Trust-Australian Governance Actors Respond

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Consumer Concerns Relating to Food Labeling and Trust-Australian Governance Actors Respond

Article excerpt

The past decade has been marked by a series of national and international food scares and scandals, from frozen berries causing an outbreak of Hepatitis A in Australia, to horsemeat masquerading as beef in the United Kingdom. These breaches of consumers' expectations by food chain actors have shaken public trust and faith in the bodies charged with keeping food safe and maintaining integrity in the food supply. It is essential that consumers have trust in their food supply and the agencies responsible for governing it (Meijboom, Visak, and Brom 2006; Papadopoulos et al. 2012). Therefore, a goal of public policy is to prevent consumer concerns from undermining trust in the food supply (Brom 2000).

In relation to food, consumer concerns about food matters have been separated into safety concerns, and moral/ethical concerns (Kjaernes 2012; Zwart 2000). Brom (2000, 130) further defines moral concerns, delineating those related to "the good life we want to live" (Brom's consumer concerns) and "the good society (or world) we want to live in" (Brom's public concerns). Thus consumers' moral concerns extend beyond simply morality relating to their own conduct, to the moral functioning of society more broadly. Brom (2000) also states that if food system actors want to maintain public trust, and be seen as trustworthy, they must acknowledge this moral dimension in interaction with consumers. In short, they must take the public's moral concerns seriously. Despite this, food safety matters, in a narrow sense, feature prominently on food policy agendas globally, while ethical and moral concerns are often sidelined. One perspective is that the reasons for this privilege of some concerns over others originates and is maintained by a number of features of the policy process, including the interaction between individual governance actors and the structured environments in which they work (Colebatch 2009). In the present study, we seek to investigate how these dimensions of the policy process interact to address consumers' moral concerns through critically analyzing the response of food governance actors to a particular set of consumers' moral concerns relating to food labeling.

Australian Food Regulation

Food labeling regulation in Australia is complex. Food is governed by multiple agencies, over local, state, and federal government (FSANZ 2013). The Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation (referred to as the Forum) is responsible for the development of both food policy and guidelines for the formulation of food standards (Department of Health 2014). The Food Standards Code, which is a binational legislative instrument developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), sets out standards for food. The Food Standards Code is then interpreted, implemented, and enforced by state and territory agencies, e.g., state health departments and local councils (FSANZ 2013; Szabo, Porter, and Sahlin 2008; Winger 2003). The state and territory agencies also provide advice to the members of the Forum, and thus are closely involved in the development of policy. In brief, the scope of food policy in Australia is set down by the Forum (who is in turn advised by state and territory agencies); standards reflecting this scope are developed by FSANZ, and these standards are implemented and enforced by state and territory agencies. As such, major changes to overarching food labeling policy must be sanctioned by the Forum before they can be written in to the Food Standards Code, and consequently implemented and enforced by the relevant agencies. Nevertheless, state and territory agencies have freedom as to how they interpret, and therefore implement and enforce, the Food Standards Code.

Food labeling, however, is also represented in Australian Consumer Law, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) responsible for taking punitive action on false and misleading claims in food advertising and packaging. …

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