A Janus-faced food industry? ethical reflections on corporate responsibility for health

Tjidde Tempels

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Food-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are key threats to public health. Yet, the responsibility for food-related health harms is contested. While traditionally viewed as mainly an individual responsibility or a governmental responsibility, fingers are nowadays also pointed at the food and beverage industry, as many firms are producing and marketing unhealthy products that contribute to the rise of obesity and other food-related NCDs. Yet, does the behaviour of the industry and the impact its products have on public health also give reason for moral concern? Are these firms doing anything wrong? Are there normative considerations on the basis of which it can be argued that food and beverage firms have a responsibility for public health?

This thesis explores the moral grounds for firms in the food and beverage industry to address food-related public health problems, and simultaneously reflects upon what taking responsibility for these problems could entail in practice.

Drawing on debates in business ethics, political philosophy, and public health ethics, it is argued that food and beverage firms have distinct responsibilities for food-related health problems, and that these responsibilities spring from considerations of non-maleficence, respect for autonomy and justice.

The thesis makes clear how responsibility for public health can be understood as an essentially shared responsibility, and outlines what taking responsibility could entail for various firms in the food and beverage industry (e.g. healthy innovation, pro-health marketing, and political lobbying for a level playing field) and makes recommendations on what kind of behaviour firms should no longer engage in (e.g. marketing unhealthy products to children and teenagers and lobbying against public health regulation).

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Verweij, Marcel, Promotor
  • Blok, Vincent, Co-promotor
Award date13 Nov 2019
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463951456
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2019


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