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Title: Setting science-based international food standards :defining dietary fibre in the Codex Alimentarius Commission
Authors: Lee, Richard Philip
Issue Date: 2010
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: The thesis presents a sociological analysis of international food standard-setting in the Codex Alimentarius Commission (the Codex). The Codex is an intergovernmental organisation jointly administered by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the World Health Organisation. The main activity of member governments who participate in the Codex is the negotiation of international food standards, which are referenced by W orId Trade Organisation agreements. Although international food standards are significant instruments which structure the agri-food system, little social science research has been conducted on the process by which such standards are set. In order to develop an in-depth analysis of the science-based standard-setting process, the thesis analyses a case-study of the attempt to agree a definition of dietary fibre within the Codex. Agreeing a definition of dietary fibre was a protracted and contentious process within the Codex, with important implications for food product development and the creation of new markets. Methods used in the study included: observations of meetings, document analysis and thirty-two interviews with scientists, government delegates and food industry and consumer representatives. In this case-study, the concept of epistemic communities - defined by Haas (1992a: 3) as " ... a network of professionals with recognised expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within the domain or issue-area" - was deemed to provide a weak explanation for the standard-setting process due to a failure to address the conditions giving rise to particular knowledge claims. Instead - and following critiques developed within the sociology of science and technology - the analysis suggests that international food standard-setting uses scientific knowledge claims, but cannot be said to be wholly based upon science because of the constitutive entanglement of science and politics. The thesis argues that the production of a definition for dietary fibre followed a methodology of standard-setting that required dietary fibre to became a 'boundary object' (Star and Griesemer, 1989) - an identifiable object around which conflicting groups can co-operate because the object possesses just enough ambiguity to allow for multiple interpretations. The thesis concludes that, in this case-study, on-going scientific controversy does not prevent the agreement of a food standard - despite food standards being 'science-based' - if the standard in question can be negotiated as a boundary object. The thesis provides novel social scientific insights into a little studied, but increasingly significant, area of the agri-food system.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development

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