The Struggle over Functional Foods: Justice and the Social Meaning of Functional Foods

M. Korthals

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)


    The social and scientific debate over functional foods has two focal points: one is the issue of the reliability and trustworthiness of the claims connected with functional foods. You don't have to be a suspicious person to be skeptical vis-à-vis the rather exorbitant claims of most functional foods. They promise prevention against all kinds of illnesses and enhancement of achievements like memory and vision, without having been tested adequately. The second issue is the issue of the socio-cultural dimension of functional foods and their so called detrimental effect on the social and normative meanings of food, with possibly the effect that food in general will be treated like a medicine, with radical individualizing effects. Finally, individuals would only be allowed to eat what their gene-profile prescribes them. In this paper, it is argued that food is a non-neutral public good that contributes inherently to the identity of vulnerable individuals. It should be treated in a non-neutral, but impartial way. Therefore, politics need to intervene in food markets from a justice and ethical point of view with two aims in mind. The first aim (as an implication of justice considerations) should be to establish safety conditions, and to identify and monitor food safety standards in an objective and impartial way. Preventive medical claims of foods should be allowed on the basis of appropriate and objective testing methods. The second aim (as an implication of ethical considerations) should be to shape conditions for a cohabitation of various food styles, including that of functional foods. Moreover, the cultural and symbolic meaning of food in a pluralistic society requires that the different food styles find some modus of living and interacting together. As long as functional foods comply with safety standards and respect other food styles, they should be allowed on the market, just like any other food product.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)315-324
    JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


    • deliberative ethics
    • functional foods
    • justice


    Dive into the research topics of 'The Struggle over Functional Foods: Justice and the Social Meaning of Functional Foods'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this