Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Scientizing Food Safety: Resistance, Acquiescence, and Localization in India

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

Scientizing Food Safety: Resistance, Acquiescence, and Localization in India

Article excerpt

We cannot have totally different kind of laws which is not based on the scientific knowledge the world believes in. (Interview, public official, 2009)

The demands of export have made us more aware of what's going on internationally . . . When others are placing demands on us, we become aware that "ok, this is also what to do." And then that leads to people demanding for internal market to do. (Interview, public official, 2009)

Many scholars have drawn attention to the escalation of food safety requirements in affluent markets since the 1990s, and to the difficulties this has posed for farmers, processors, and regulators in the developing world (e.g., Anders and Caswell 2009; Athukorala and Jayasuriya 2003; Henson and Jaffee 2006). In wholly separate literatures, others have documented the increasing reliance of governance institutions on formal scientific procedures and expertise, a phenomenon known as scientization (Drori et al. 2003; Finnemore 1991; Schofer 2004). But few have documented the intersection of these two developments.

Scientific technologies of governance are now codified as requirements at all levels of food management: firm-level standards and quality management systems, national regulation, and international law. This has posed serious challenges to developing countries, whose access to affluent import markets and power in international standard-setting fora now hinges on scientific capacity in the form of advanced laboratories, institutionalized expertise, and national data collection.

This article examines the unfolding of incentives for sciencebased food safety governance, and their political and ideological consequences, in India. The country initially, and quite publicly, challenged pressures to adopt new regulatory models on the grounds that it lacked the scientific capacity to do so. But opposition quickly gave way to acquiescence. And as state and industry actors mobilized to build scientific capacity, they made expansive new claims about the domestic benefits of reform. These efforts integrated global norms into domestic political agendas and transformed the nature of scientization from imposition to localized ideology.

The case suggests a two-stage model of scientization among developing countries. In the first stage, coercive and competitive mechanisms drive adoption of science-based governance models and advanced technologies. In the second stage, as local actors mobilize to meet foreign demands, they attach their own interests and agendas to science-based reforms. The outcome is a set of rational myths about the benefits of scientization.

The article draws on content analysis of organizational, policy, and news documents and a small set of interviews with highly placed public officials and industry representatives.

Explaining Global Scientization

The Mechanisms

Many scholars have noted the worldwide spread of sciencebased governance, sometimes called scientization (Drori et al. 2003; Drori and Meyer 2006; Finnemore 1991; Quark 2012; Schofer 2004; Winickoff and Bushey 2009). The phenomenon includes expanding roles for scientists and their expertise in political life and the ascent of formal risk analysis as the only legitimate method of locating and articulating threats to the social order (Jasanoff 1999).

Most world polity accounts of global scientization have emphasized normative and associational mechanisms of diffusion (e.g., Drori et al. 2003; Drori and Meyer 2006; Schofer 2004). Science is appealing and highly valued: its own kind of authority, "a form of religion in a rationalistic modern world" (Drori and Meyer 2006: 46) and widely seen as an instrument for social progress (Schofer 2004: 223). It has become a taken-for-granted script for doing politics (Schofer 2004: 223), an object of unreflective imitation. Moreover, as science spreads, science-based governance becomes the new standard of appropriateness, and its adoption a precondition of membership in the club of rational actors (Drori and Meyer 2006: 34). …

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