Ethical Rooms for Maneuver and Their Prospects Vis-à-vis the Current Ethical Food Policies in Europe

  • Michiel Korthals
Open Access


In this paper I want to show that consumer concerns can be implemented in food chains by organizing ethical discussions of conflicting values that include them as participators. First, it is argued that there are several types of consumer concerns about food and agriculture that are multi-interpretable and often contradict each other or are at least difficult to reconcile without considerable loss. Second, these consumer concerns are inherently dynamic because they respond to difficult and complex societal and technological situations and developments. For example, because of the rising concern with global warming, carbon dioxide absorption of crops is now attracting public attention, which means that new requirements are being proposed for the environmentally friendly production of crops. Third, there are different types of consumers, and their choices between conflicting values differ accordingly. Consumers use different weighing models and various types of information in making their food choices. Changing food chains more in accordance with consumer concerns should at least take into account the multi-interpretable, dynamic, and pluralist features of consumer concerns, for example, in traceability schemes. In discussing usual approaches such as codes, stakeholder analysis, and assurance schemes, I conclude that these traditional approaches can be helpful. However, in cases of dynamic, pluralistic, and uncertain developments, maintaining some pre-existing evaluating scheme or some clear cut normative hierarchy, such as codes or assurance schemes, can be disastrous in undermining new ethical desirable initiatives. Instead of considering ethical standards and targets as fixed, which is done with codes and schemes, it is more fruitful to emphasize the structure of the processes in which ethical weighing of relevant consumer concerns get shaped. The concept of “Ethical Room for Maneuver” (ERM) is constructed to specify the ethical desirable conditions under which identification and weighing of paramount values and their dilemmas can be processed. The main aims of the ERM are making room in all the links of the food chain for regulating and implementing the relevant consumer concerns by (1) balancing and negotiating, (2) supporting information systems that are relevant and communicative for various consumer groups and (3) organizing consumer involvement in the links of the food chain. The social and political context of agriculture and food production, particularly in Europe, gives ample opportunity for implementing several types of Ethical Rooms for Maneuver. Finally, I discuss several types of Ethical Rooms for Manoeuvre in the food chains that can be communicated by means of specific traceability schemes to less involved stakeholders with the potential consequence that the stakeholders will be motivated to be more involved.


consumer concerns ethical dilemmas deliberative ethics ethical traceability 



The research for this paper is part of the program Ethical Room for Maneuver of Applied Philosophy, Wageningen University that is mainly financed by the Dutch Science Foundation, #253-20-013. The other parts are a cooperative project with a large food service company to introduce ERM and one with farmers organizations to assess the potentialities of ERM in diary farming. I wish to thank the three anonymous reviewers whose comments helped improve this paper.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Applied PhilososphyWageningen UniversityWageningenNetherlands

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