Trading "ethical preferences" in the market: outline of a politically liberal framework for the ethical characterization of foods

A. Michalopoulos, M.J.J.A.A. Korthals, H. Hogeveen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The absence of appropriate information about imperceptible and ethical food characteristics limits the opportunities for concerned consumer/ citizens to take ethical issues into account during their inescapable food consumption. It also fuels trust crises between producers and consumers, hinders the optimal embedment of innovative technologies, "punishes" in the market ethical producers, and limits the opportunities for politically liberal democratic governance. This paper outlines a framework for the ethical characterization and subsequent optimization of foods (ECHO). The framework applies to "imperceptible," "pragmatic," and "reasonable" food characteristics about which consumers/ citizens maintain concerns. A political perspective is assumed in that valid information is taken to serve the politically liberal and democratic functions of the market by allowing concerned citizens to make informed choices in their role as food consumers. Information is aggregated by multi-attribute modeling. It takes the form of "maximized" ("utilitarian") to "most balanced" (MINMAX) non-binary aggregate comparative rankings of perceptibly substitutable food products. The model requires the description of characteristics by means of criteria and weights (structural input), and technical input on the performance of food for these criteria (product input). Structural input is grounded on relevantly concerned citizen/consumers' perceptions. It is culture and times dependent. Availability of product input is assumed. Uses for the amelioration of the aforementioned limitations are discussed. So long as, and to the extent that, certain ethical concerns are not addressed by public policy, the ECHO framework may facilitate offering members of society a necessary (though not a sufficient) condition for regulating the ethical aspects of food production in self-regulated markets as consumers, when they are constrained to do so through their government as citizens. In doing that, the framework may contribute to the development of the ethical dimension of food production and may bring rewards for food supply actors that take reasonable concerns of citizen/ consumers into account
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-27
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • genetically-modified foods
  • trust

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