Risk, anti-reflexivity, and ethical neutralization in industrial food processing

Diana Stuart, Michelle R. Worosz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


While innovations have fostered the mass production of food at low costs, there are externalities or side effects associated with high-volume food processing. We focus on foodborne illness linked to two commodities: ground beef and bagged salad greens. In our analysis, we draw from the concepts of risk, reflexive modernization, and techniques of ethical neutralization. For each commodity, we find that systems organized for industrial goals overlook how production models foster cross-contamination and widespread outbreaks. Responses to outbreaks tend to rely on technological fixes, which do not constitute the reflexive change needed to holistically and effectively address foodborne illness in the long term. We contend that powerful anti-reflexivity movements resist calls for reform and successfully maintain industrial goals and organization. Actions that thwart changes in agrifood systems to better protect consumers are unethical, yet they continue to be successful. We argue that specific techniques of ethical neutralization play an important part in their success. Research on anti-reflexivity and techniques of neutralization will serve to further expose the ethical issues associated with the industrial agrifood system and foster new guiding principles and organizational designs for food production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-301
Number of pages15
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Anti-reflexivity
  • Food processing
  • Food safety
  • Reflexive modernization
  • Techniques of neutralization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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