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The many well-publicized food scandals in recent years have resulted in a general state of vulnerable trust. As a result, building consumer trust has become an important goal in agri-food policy. In their efforts to protect trust in the agricultural and food sector, governments and industries have tended to consider the problem of trust as merely a matter of informing consumers on risks. In this article, we argue that the food sector better addresses the problem of trust from the perspective of the trustworthiness of the food sector itself. This broad idea for changing the focus of trust is the assumption that if you want to be trusted, you should be trustworthy. To provide a clear understanding of what being trustworthy means within the food sector, we elaborate on both the concept of trust and of responsibility. In this way we show that policy focused on enhancing transparency and providing information to consumers is crucial, but not sufficient for dealing with the problem of consumer trust in the current agri-food context.
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(Accepted in revised form August 30, 2005)
ABSTRACT. The many well-publicized food scandals in recent years have
resulted in a general state of vulnerable trust. As a result, building consumer trust
has become an important goal in agri-food policy. In their efforts to protect trust
in the agricultural and food sector, governments and industries have tended to
consider the problem of trust as merely a matter of informing consumers on risks.
In this article, we argue that the food sector better addresses the problem of trust
from the perspective of the trustworthiness of the food sector itself. This broad
idea for changing the focus of trust is the assumption that if you want to be
trusted, you should be trustworthy. To provide a clear understanding of what
being trustworthy means within the food sector, we elaborate on both the concept
of trust and of responsibility. In this way we show that policy focused on
enhancing transparency and providing information to consumers is crucial, but not
sufficient for dealing with the problem of consumer trust in the current agri-food
KEY WORDS: food, food policy, responsibility, trust, trustworthiness
Consumer trust has received substantial attention in recent years. Several
large EU-funded research projects on consumer trust in food had been
executed (cf. Poppe and Kjaernes, 2003; Romano, 2005), national foo d
authorities as well as the European EFSA have prioritized strengthening or
rebuilding public trust as one of their core aims (e.g., FSA, 2001), and even
global organizations have began to seriously deal with issues of trust (FAO,
2003). This raises the question of why this issue gets so much attention. If we
take the growing expertise in the field of risk analysis and assessment and
the increasing reliability of safety studies into account, one would expect the
opposite trend. A closer look at the agri-food sector, however, shows three
general characteristics that can explain why trust is still an issue in spite of
the growing expertise in the field of risk analysis (cf. Brom, 2002).
First, we are confronted with the development and application of new
technologies, like biotechnology and more specifically genetic modification.
Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (2006) 19:427–442
DOI 10.1007/s10806-006-9000-2 Ó Springer 2006
These advancements yield novel products and ways of production where the
criteria of evaluation and acceptability are not clear beforehand. Moreover,
technological innovation is related to the blurring of borders between food
and medicine and the introduction of health-related novel foods that
influences the food sector.
A second development is the growing distance, in both time and space,
between production and consumption. This often co nfronts consumers with
the feeling of a loss of control of their ability of choice in food selection.
Consumers often feel dependent on practices that are out of their direct
control and, yet, are very important to them. The globalizing character of
the agricultural and food sector only confirms this feeling: production of
food is often a long, anonymous process in which large-scale industry farms,
multinational processing industries, and supermarkets are involved.
Third, the food sector has been strongly associated with a number of
food-related scandals and affairs, like BSE in beef, dioxins in chicken, sal-
monella in eggs, and the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. More than
once the effect of these incidences on public trust has been mentioned (FAO/
WHO, 1998; FSA, 2001, p. 24; FAO, 2003). The FAO, for instance, states
that highly publicized food safety problems ‘‘have given rise to a general
state of distrust among consumers’’ (2003, p. 3).
Because of these characteristics of the sector, dealing with risk,
tainty, and igno rance have become part and parcel of everyday life. As a
consumer, one has to depend on the expertise of others, the checks and
balances within the supply chain, and first and foremost on the goodwill of
anonymous people and institutions involved in the agri-food sector. This
highlights the importance of trust in this sector, which is a way to deal with
uncertainty and lack of personal control. As long as trust exists, the lack of
control is often not experienced, or at least not considered as an unpleasant
vulnerability. However, the increasing number of food scandals and out-
breaks of diseases have made trust vulnerable. This does not imply that
there is a crisis of confidence in scientific and technological institutions in
Europe in fact several reputable European surveys (e.g., Gaskell et al.,
2003, p. 32) have shown evidence that this is not the case but it does show
that trust has become vulnerable. The focus, therefore, shifts to how to deal
with trust in the current agri-food sector.
In this article, we elaborate several steps that are crucial for an a ccount
that aims to address the problematic character of trust in the food
sector. First, we argue that the concept of trust deserves more elucidation.
Risk defined as the ‘‘chance hazard.’’ However, in several situations the extent and
content of the risk we may face is not clear. In those cases, we have to deal with uncertainty or
even with ignorance. At uncertainty, we know that we do not know, in case of ignorance we do
not even know that we do not know. See Jasanoff 2001.
However, the current problem regarding consumer trust is, as we will argue,
not so much a problem of trust, but one of trustworthiness. Yet even when
focus is turned toward trustworthiness, there still remains an incomplete
picture of the problem. Since decisions on food-related risks are delegated to
responsible authori ties, like governm ent agencies and the food industries,
responsibility is a key issue in relation to both trust and trustworthiness. At
the end of the article, we focus on some implications of our analysis for agri-
food policy.
When one tries to define the concept of trust, the diversity of prior defini-
tions is striking. Shapiro has already mentioned that the considerable
attention on trust has resulted in a ‘‘confusing potpourri of definitions’’
(1987, p. 625). For instance, according to Hardi n (1993, 1996, 2002), we can
define trust as ‘‘encapsulated interest’’ in the sense that one trust s someone if
one has adequate reason to believe it will be in that person’s interest to be
trustworthy. Trust is encapsulated by one’s judgment of the interests of the
trustee. The basic premises of this rational-choice approach are that both
the trustor and the trustee are rational agents and that trust is a form of
rational calculation based upon available information. Since trust becomes
crucial in situations of risk or uncertainty, in this approach trust is seen as a
process of rational calculation in which both the trustor and the trustee aim
to maximize their interests. If you have reason to believe that it is in the
interest of your neighbor to take care of the grapes in your garden during
your holidays (he expects receiving some homemade wine at the end of the
year), then you may be more willing to trust him for this job than when you
expect him to have no personal interest at all.
However, is trust always a matter of rational considerations and inter-
ests? Othe rs, like Lahno (2001), convincingly argue that genuine trust also
has an emotional character that goes beyond the direct control of reason.
They argue that a focus on rationality does not suffice for completely
enlightening the concept. Trust is more than accepting a certain risk in the
sense that we decide to trust after having weighed all risks and benefits. The
risks at stake, the available knowledge, and the assessments of the other’s
interest have a very complex relation with trust. On the one hand, more
information on the involved risks and interests of the other party will en-
hance the possibilities of trust. On the other hand, it is the absence or
presence of trust itself that strongly colors our perceptions of the informa-
tion on risks and interests. For instance, someone who trusts the agri-food
sector will probably perceive a large-scale recall of a product by a food
company as a confirmation of his trust. While someone who lacks such trust
in the sector may presumably have the idea that she just escaped from
another food crisis. The same situation with the same level of available
information may be perceived completely differently. This does not entail
that trust is an intangible concept that lacks any relat ion to reflective
deliberation and reason, yet is shows that dealing with trust cannot be
reduced to providing information or decreasing risk levels. Trust requires
knowledge and information, but this will not automatically yield an im-
proved trust level, for trust is not something that is decided with a calculator
on our desk. Hence, if we would reduce trust to a pro blem of taking risks or
lack of knowledge, we effectively eliminate trust. Trust is not just a matter of
risk reduction or dealing with the interests of others, but trust enables us to
act in cases of uncertainty and lack of personal control.
We engage in trusting relations daily, but trust is not the same in all situ-
ations. For example, when I trust a complete stranger to stop in front of a
stop sign, I have different incentives and different vulnerabilities than when I
trust my GP in prescribing me medicine. Nevertheless, in both situations, we
speak about trust. To prevent ‘‘trust’’ from becoming an all-embracing
concept that wi ll be next to meaningless, it is advisable to differentiate
between different types of trust (see Hollis, 1998; Sztompka, 1999). We may
separate at least two general types of trust: ‘‘anticipatory trust’’ and
‘‘responsive trust.’’
3.1. Anticipatory Trust
Anticipatory trust is the kind of trust in which someone trusts the other
since one expects him or her to act routinely. It is the normal pattern of
behavior that forms the foundation for trust. The main element in the
(implicit) decision to trust is the analogy between the present case and
former cases in which the other has acted in a trustworthy way. A pre-
condition for this type is that there is a kind of predictive pattern. This
predictive element can be based upon specific human relations. For instance,
I trust my friend to wear a suit when I invite him to my reception since he
At this point we use Sztompka (1999, pp. 27–29). Sztompka also speaks about the evocative
character of trust. This type is, however, not very illuminating in the field of agriculture and
food. All aspects of this evocative trust that apply to our specific field of interest are also
covered by responsive trust. For an analogous distinction see also Hollis (1998, pp. 10–11), who
distinguishes predictive trust (trust that the other will do the same as usual) and normative trust
(trust that the other will do what is right).
always does so. I know his behavior and expect him to act as usual. Such
predictable patterns also can explain why one can trust brands even if one is
abroad. Although one does not have any relation or experience with a shop
in a foreign city, one will enter a superm arket and buy the products of this
brand, since one trusts that the safety and quality of the product with this
brand is like everywhere else. The consumer’s (positive) experiences with this
brand elsewhere, provide him wi th en ough ground to trust the products in
this shop.
The vulnerability of this kind of trust is that predictable patterns make
someone or something reliable, but not automatically trustworthy. One
always runs the risk that this is the first time the other will not act in the
expected way.
3.2. Responsive Trust
The predicative pattern that is presupposed by anticipatory trust is prob-
lematic in many situations in the current agri-food sector. First, and obvi-
ously, there is a lack of normal patterns. For instance, with the introduction
of a new technology in food production, we have to trust others that the
products of that technology are safe and meet certain standards of quality.
However, in such a situation we cannot rely on the usual way of dealing with
these products, since there is not a normal pattern available concerning this
new technology. Second, in some situations the normal pattern of behavior
is not en ough for trust. For instance, the normal clothing of my friend
provides me eno ugh ground to rely on him to come in a suit to my reception;
yet when there is an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease I do not expect my
government to be merely predictable, but also to actively use their compe-
tence and take responsibilities for the situation.
Nevertheless, when there is no normal pattern and when the normal
pattern is not enough ground for trusting, trust is still possibl e. Yet, we had
then better use the term ‘‘responsive trust.’’ With responsi ve trust, it is no
longer predictability that is central in a trusting relation, but it is the so-
called ‘‘tacit demand of trust’’ (Løgstrup, 1959; Lagerspetz, 1998). The
trustor presupposes that the trustee has not merely the ability to accept
responsibility, but the trustee feels an obligation to respond to the trust
placed in her. In this case, the trustor not only expects that the trustee
respond in her acting on the object entrusted her, but also expects it of him
(Hollis, 1998). She expects the trustee not to act routinely, but to respect and
respond to the expectations the other has of us. Therefore, when one is
trusted, the trustee should not merely act the same as usual, but should
recognize the tacit demand of trust and do what is expected of him.
This expectation often has a moral dimension. For instance, regarding
government, I do not only expect that they take care for an adequate food
system, I also expect it of them. I believe that they have a moral duty to do
so and that I am entitled to expect this. In this case, trust entails a moral
notion, namely an obligation to respond in the entrusted way.
The main vulnerability of responsive trust is that presupposed shared
moral values do not necessarily lead to trust. Shared values do not lead
automatically to the same norms. For instance, all participants in the food
chain, the governm ent included, share the values of human health and well-
being. However, this does not solve all of the problems concerning trust in
relation to the health and safety impact of genetically engineered food
immediately. The problems do not start in the complete absence of shared
values, but in the uncertainty concerning the way of tailoring the shared
values to specific standards concerning the safety and health impact of GM-
foods. Responsive trust remains problematic and vulnerable as long as it is
not clear what the implication of the shared values will be. Therefore,
building responsive trust is not only a matter of transparency concerning the
values at stake, but it also impl ies a clear discussion of how these shared
values are applied in relation to the object of trust.
Anticipatory and responsive trust may coincide in specific trusting
relationships. However, this distinction may serve as a step in mapping the
important aspects of trust. Moreover, the distinction between these two
aspects of trust seems to be useful for exploring the role and content of
Returning to the food-safety debate, consumer trust seems a necessity for a
well-operating agri-food sector. This could lead one to believe that one has
to start at the point of the consumer: he seems the one who should change in
one way or another before he can trust. If we approach the problem from
this point, regaining consumer trust turns into something next to a mission
impossible. You cannot make others trust you. This, however, does not
imply that consumer trust is an unmanageable problem. It shows that we
had better approach the issue from the question of why a consumer would
trust someone else. If we do so, we notice that trust raises the question
whether the other person is worth being trusted. This emphasizes that lack
of trust is a problem of the one who want s to be trusted rather than of the
trustor. The problem of consumer trust is at least partly caused by the
uncertainty regarding the trustworthiness of other stakeholders in the sector
and by the lack of clarity regarding what one may reasonably expect from
those others.
This highlights the importance of trustworthiness. Consumer trust
should not merely be addressed as a problem related to consumer behavior,
but as one of trustworthiness: he who wants to be trusted should be trust-
worthy. Enhancing trustworthiness, therefore, seems a more promising
starting point in the process of regaining consumer trust.
This raises the question of how to be trustworthy. Transparency and
traceability are often seen as key terms for being trustworthy (e.g., FSA,
2001). When we apply the above analysis of trust this seems, at least to a
certain extent, reasonable. In a situation of anticipatory trust being trust-
worthy is mainly a matter of acting predictably. One has proved oneself
trustworthy in former cases and now has to maintain the actual situation.
And here transparency and traceability are necessary characteristics for
proving oneself trustworthy. You aim to enable the other person to antic-
ipate based on your former actions in order to show yourself as trustworthy
in this case as well. Showing what you are doing and the way in which you
are acting are of the utmost importance. For instance, as long as a consumer
trusts the government to have appropriate food-safety legislation, being
trustworthy for a government requires no more than continually showing in
legislation and policy that this trust is justified.
However, being transparent is not always enough to be trustworthy.
Even immoral persons can be predictable and hence can be very transparent,
yet not trustworthy. For instance, a totalitarian regime may be very trans-
parent towards their subjects and follow clear patterns, yet this will not
make them trustworthy. This shows that sheer predictability and trans-
parency are insufficient for trustworthiness in cases where a trust relation-
ship has to be started. If trust is under pressure or even lost, being
trustworthy becomes a matter of building and obtaining trust.
In the discussion of responsive trust, we have seen that building trust also
requires a clear discussion of one’s own values and the application of these
values in relat ion to the object of trust. Being trustworthy in this context is
not merely showing what you are doing and how you are acting, but also
clarifying why you are doing it: what are the values upon which you act and
what does acting on these values mean in this situation? For both govern-
ment and companies this implies that one has to explicate one’s own norms
and values and explain what acting on these values means in a certain
In short, being trustworthy cannot be limited to increasing transparency
and providing information to consumers. Taken together, the complex
character of interactions in the agri-food sector and the relative quickness of
the developments resul t in a situation in which being trustworthy requires
something beyond transparency. Hence, dealing with consumer trust in the
case of food also requires the explication of values upon which one acts.
This enables the trustor to get a clear indication of what one can reasonably
expect of the other. Clarity regarding these exp ectations is crucial for trust,
for trusting implies that the one who trusts expects the other to take her
responsibilities seriously. This highlights the importance of another aspect
related to trustworthiness: responsibility (Figure 1).
A food scandal, a case of BSE, or an occurrence of foot-and-mouth disease
are all cases in which trust surfaces as a possible problem. However, they
have more in common. These are all also situations in which one of the first
questions is ‘‘Who is responsi ble?’’ The answer to this question is often less
obvious. In analyzing debates on the distribution of responsibilities in the
agri-food chain, it is striking that each part of the food chain tries to lay
responsibility on another part of the chain. Producers justify disputable
methods of production, for instance regarding animal welfare, by pointing
towards economic pressure and towards the con sumers that still buy the
products. Consumers point to the difference in prices and the responsibility
of the government. Politicians emphasize the responsibility of producers,
and so on, until a deadlock is reached.
This begging of responsibilities does not contribute to any form of
trustworthiness. Tr usting implies that the trust or expects that the trustee
Trust Trust
Trustworthiness means anticipatory responsive
providing information trust trust
Trustworthiness Trustworthiness
–Transparency of pattern – Transparency in decisions
Figure 1. Shift from trustworthiness as providing information to a more multilay-
ered analysis of trustworthiness.
takes her responsibilities seri ously. As long as the content, the distribution,
and the limits of these responsibilities remain unclear, trust will become
vulnerable and trustworthiness will remain rare. Therefore, an elaboration
of responsibilities is necessary at this point, especially since there is a ten-
dency to equate the question ‘‘Who is responsible?’’ automatically with the
very specific question ‘‘Who is to blame?’’ It is, of course, legitimate to use
responsibility in referring to liability; in the case that a certain food product
is poisoned, there will be someone or some institution that can be held
morally or legally responsible and can be blamed or even legally punished
for what happened.
Responsibility in the context of trustworthiness, however, is much richer
than liability. Responsibility in this richer sense is not limited to a causal
relationship between a certain act and the result thereof. In the case that
consumers fall ill through consuming poisoned food, the one who is
responsible is not only the person that makes the actual mistake in the
production system that poisons the food, but also many other participants
in the chain, including the government. For instance, a National Food
Standards agency may not have caused the poisoned food in this case, but
nevertheless they may be held responsible. This highlights that we may have
reasonable expectations towards others even when they are not responsi ble
in the sense that they have caused the undesirable situation. We can hold
someone responsible by referring to a certain role or agreement that the
person has accepted. In the agri-food sector, this plays a crucial role. For
instance, agreements have been made concerning the reduction of nitrates in
animal husbandry. Due to these agreements, we have reasonable expecta-
tions of farmers that they take responsibility to cope with maximum limits
of environmental pollution.
This distinction between causal responsibility and role responsibility fit
the two types of responsibility that are distinguished by Jonas (1984). He
distinguishes between ‘‘ex-post-facto’’ responsibility (reactive responsibility)
and ‘‘pro-active responsibility.’’ Next to reactive responsibility, which is
closely related to the question regarding blameworthiness, we can distin-
guish a pro-active responsi bility. Both types of responsibility are definable
by starting point, direction, and perspective.
5.1. Starting Point
Reactive responsibility has its starting point in a certain state of affairs;
something, usually unpleasant, that has happened. The question ‘‘Who is
responsible?’’ is then often equal to the question ‘‘Who is to blame?’’ Pro-
active responsibility, in contrast, starts from the actor himself. An actor
might make a commitment to the realization of some valued state of affairs.
Consequently, she will adapt her behavior to such an ideal.
For instance, a
farmer may make a commitment to the welfare of her animals and treat
them in accordance to this commitment. In such a case, she is not merely
responsible when something happens regarding the health of her livestock,
but she also wants to be held responsible regarding her commitment.
5.2. Direction
The differences between both types of responsibility can also be recognized
at the level of the direction of responsibility. Reactive responsibility is
backward looking. After something has happened, actions are evaluated in
order to figure out who is to blame. Pro-active responsibility, on the other
hand, is forward directed. The responsibility an actor feels for an ideal
influences his future actions, the actor uses an ideal as a compass to choose
between alternative actions. The responsibility is directed towards the future
and strives towards a state of affairs that is considered as valuable. Those
values or ideals can be linked to fundame ntal questions such as ‘‘In what
kind of world would we like to live?’’ or ‘‘How do we want to treat each
other, animals, and nature? ’’ Having these ideals and views on the good life
directly influences one’s view on what one considers as one’s responsibility.
5.3. Perspective
A third difference is the perspective. The concept of reactive responsibility
goes togeth er with the outside perspective. After something has happened,
people try to find out who is to be held responsi ble; the responsibility is
ascribed to an actor from the outside. The inner perspective is central to the
concept of pro-active responsibility: the actor himself determines his values,
aims, and responsibilities. Therefore, responsibility is not just what is at
stake when something has gone wrong, it can equally be based upon an ideal
or value that someone thinks to be worth striving for.
With these distinctions, we have made a first step. However, it is still
unclear how responsibilities should be explicated and distributed. By
including pro-act ive responsibility in the an alysis of what one can reason-
ably expect of others, it becomes clear that responsibility is more than a
backward-looking concept. This is crucial in approaching the questions
regarding trust and trustworthiness. Backward looking or reactive respon-
sibility suffices as long as the predictability of a situation provides enough
ground for trust. If not, backward-looking responsibility does not suffice,
since the moment that the question ‘‘Who is responsible?’’ is asked, trust
Ideals are defined as values (often latent and implicit) in the law or the public and moral
culture of a society or group. Mostly those values cannot be fully realized and they partly
extend any rules that can be formulated and formalized, see Burg and Taekema, 2004.
might have already been harmed. The information about someone’s pro-
active responsibility and the values that underlie this responsibility provide
possibilities to trust, and consequently to be trustworthy even in situations
when one cannot rely on predictability.
Enhancing trustworthiness requires a clear distribution of responsibility.
Without aiming to determine exactly what the responsibility of each actor in
the food chain should be, it is possible to provide a tool to facilitate dis-
cussion and agreement about the distribution of responsibilities. Following
the distinction between the reactive and proactive perspective, we can dis-
tinguish between two standar ds of respon sibility: a minimal and an ideal
Minimal responsibility implies that taking one’s responsibility seri ously
means that one does no more than obeying the minimal standards that have
been set as obligatory by law, a code of practice, or social convention. Seen
from the reactive perspective, one is only to blame when one has not obeyed
the minimal standards. This interpretation of responsibility is often a nec-
essary first step if someone is to be valued as a trustworthy partner in the
sector. One can count on the behavior of the other, since he will at least
comply with the minimal standard. An example of this minimal respon si-
bility is the case in which a farmer has a responsibility towards the envi-
ronment in the sense that she should comply with the legally fixed level of
ammonia emission. She has taken her responsibility seriously as long as she
does not exceed the maximum emission level.
Responsibility can also be addressed from an ideal view. This goes be-
yond what is strictly necessary in order to avoid moral or legal blame. In this
interpretation, the question whether or not one is responsible is not just
answered by a third party or an external standard, but by one’s own ideals
or values. Responsibility in this sense is related to a state of affairs that one
regards as valuable and worth striving for. This makes responsibility ideal in
the sense that it is acti on-guiding without becoming utopian. It is not uto-
pian, since the ideals can be a motivation to move in a certain direction
(Figure 2). The attainability of ideals might differ, but at least they can serve
as a co mpass that helps to move in the preferred direction. This does not
mean that each member of the food chain has to do everything possible in
order to enhance his ideal. Thoreau (1983, p. 32) describes the limit s of
responsibility accurately when he states, ‘‘It is not a man’s duty as a matter
of course to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enor-
mous wrong (...) but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he
gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support.’’ That
means that from all the choices the actors in the food chain have to make
anyway, they avoid the choices that have bad consequences for the cause
they consider valuable. For instance, a farmer striving for trustworthiness
should explicate his ideals on how to treat animals and should avoid actions
that are contrary to that ideal, even if these actions are not legally imposed.
This distinction provides us with an instrument for dealing with ques-
tions concerning the distribution of responsibilities in the food chain. It can
help in clarifying what one may reasonably expect of the other, which is
crucial for any possibility of trust. Moreover, the distinction has normative
power. Ideal responsibility shows that we sometimes have expectations to-
wards others that are appropriate and justified, yet go beyond the minimal
standard. In spite of the fact that the demanding character of such an
expectation gets weaker the further we are removed from the minimal
standard, it remains possible and appropriate to hold someone responsible.
Even when one has taken one’s responsibility in a minimal sense, one can
argue that he should have chosen to act in another, more desirable way.
From the perspective of trustworthiness, this can be helpful, since taking
one’s responsibility only in a minimal sense is not enough to be trustworthy
in a changing food sector. Just doing what is legally obliged offers not
enough ground to trust someone in a changing and complex situation.
Now we may turn to the implications of the above-mentioned steps for
governmental food policy. Suppose government is confronted with con-
sumer distrust regarding the safety and quality of pork after a case of swine
fever. Applying the above analysis implies that the first question is not
Responsibility Responsibility
Questionwho reactive pro-active
is to blame? responsibility responsibility
minimal minimal ideal
Figure 2. Responsibility shifts to a view where both reactive responsibility and
pro-active responsibility are introduced.
‘‘How can we convince consumers to trust the proven safety of this meat?’’
but ‘‘Why would the consumer trust us in this situation?’’ The first step is
the recognition that dealing with this problem means dealing with questions
regarding trustworthiness. A governm ent cannot change consumer trust, yet
has a direct influence on its own trustworthiness as well as an indirect
influence on the trustworthiness of the sector in its entirety.
The second step is addressing the question regarding the status of trust in
this specific situation: Is it a situation of anticipatory trust that should be
protected, or has trust a rather vulnerable position, implying that it should
be earned? The answer to this question in the above case is quite clear. Trust
seems to be in a vulnerable position and the predictability of the case fails to
serve as its ground. This means that transparency and traceability regarding
the food safety and food quality are in this case only the first preliminary
steps. One should not only explicate what one is doing regarding safety and
quality, but also clarifying why one is doing it: What are the values upon
which one acts and what does acting on these values mean in this situation?
For both government and companies, this implies that one has to explicate
one’s own norms and values and what acting on these values means in
certain contexts. Consumers are not only concerned about safety in terms of
risk to public health, but equally about the way in which both government
and the food sector formulate a policy to prevent this from happening again,
about the consequen ces for animal welfare, and the future of intensive
husbandry systems and so on. In the practice of the above case, explicating
values and norms can mean that a government has to explicate its norms
and values regarding animal welfare or certain food-production systems.
These explications may have a spin-off in elaborating good corporate gov-
ernance and in furthering open and critical discussion with all who are
involved in the food chain.
Based upon the analysis of the status of trust and a further explication of
the underlying values upon which one acts, it should become clear what the
citizen/consumer may reasonably expect of government and the sector. The
issue of responsibility comes in at this moment. Concerning this issue,
government has a double role. First, government has a responsibility con-
cerning its own actions and, second, it has a task in stimulating others, like
producers and consumers, to take responsibilities. In a minimal sense, this
means, in the above case, that the government develops and enforces
standards concerning food safety that provide the basic quality of stan-
dards. Further, a government provides clarity concerning what the minimal
responsibility of, for instance, producers is. Policies and laws strictly clarify
what is necessary in order to avoid legal blame. Responsibility in an ideal
sense implies that a government expresses and reflects on its values and
ideals. W hen, for instance, sustainable development in agriculture and food
supply is a target of governmental policy, this should also influence gov-
ernmental responsibility in dealing with the above-sketched case of food
safety. Further, a government can stimulate other partners, e.g., companies,
to take their ideal responsibility.
At this point, the distinction between ‘‘corporate social responsibility’’
and ‘‘corporate social responsiveness’’ (see Wood, 1991, p. 694; Pierick
et al., 2004) is clarifying. Corporate responsibility in the sense of expli-
cating ethical principles and values or underscoring an ethical code is an
essential condition for being trustworthy, yet it is not a sufficient one.
Considering a partner in the agri-food sector trustworthy requires not only
some kind of reflection and explication of one’s norms and values, but also
the deliberative attitude to explain and engage in critical discussion on these
principles and their impac t: i.e., responsiveness. The combination of
responsibility and responsiveness is necessary and prevents us from a situ-
ation in which either principled commitments remain only words, or
apparently responsive partners remai n irresponsible and consequently are
still untrustworthy. Therefore, taking one’s responsibility seriously only
leads to trustworthiness if it is a combination of both reflection and
responsiveness. It is part of a government’s ideal responsibility to stimulate
this combination of responsibility and responsiveness.
Stating that trustworthiness means explicating responsibilities does not
imply that g overnments should take all responsibilities that are forced on it
by others. Even in taking ideal responsibility, a government can reasonably
argue that there are limits to its responsibility. Only in this way can a
government live up to the expectations and remain a trustworthy partner.
Returning to the above case, a trustworthy gove rnment is not just a
transparent government that only gives information regarding the involved
risks, but it is one that is able to form ulate and explicate what a consumer/
citizen may reasonably expect of a government in this situation and why.
This is not an all-problem-solving strategy. Due to the evident moral plu-
ralism in most Western societies, a discussion of the values, and of the
distribution and interpretation of responsibilities will not automatically lead
to trust. Yet, clarity about what a consumer/citizen may reasonably expect
of a government shows how trustworthy a government is and provides a
better ground for trusting.
In this paper, we have argued that a fruitful approach of the current dis-
cussion regarding consumer trust is not one that considers the problem as
related to consumer behavior, but one that starts from the trustworthiness
of the food sector itself , including the government. The above analysis of
trust shows that if you want to be trusted , you should be trustworthy. We
have argued that trustworthiness is more than being transparent and implies
more than providing information. Both are necessary, but are not sufficient.
Since trust is an emotional attitude, providing information is often only half
the story of coming to be trusted. Moreover, because of the dynamism in the
agri-food sector, trust is not the same in every situation. Hence, an analysis
of the status of trust is required: Is it to be protected or to be earned?
Especially in the last case, people do not merely want to know what one is
doing, but also why. It is at this stage that the need for explication of the
values and ideals that underlie one’s acting will become apparent and the
importance of a clear distribution and interpretation of responsibilities
This leads us to the over-all conclusion that being trustworthy in the
current agri-food context cannot be without reflection on and explication of
one’s values. This process of reflection and the subsequent discussion should
not be considered as a simple tool that provides us with a situation in which
trust is completely unproblematic, yet it certainly helps in providing trust
with a less vulnerable position in the current agri-food sector.
This article has been based upon research funded by the Netherlands
Ministry of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality in the context of artic-
ulating research issues. Parts of this paper have been discussed during the
International Expert Meeting on ‘‘Trust and Responsibility in the Agro-
food Sector’’ in Utrecht, 27 Septem ber 2002 and the Fourth Congress of
the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics (EurSafe), Tou-
louse 20–22 March 2003. We want to thank all participants for their con-
tributions. Special thanks are due to Robert Heeger and Benjamin
Radelet for their helpful criticisms of earlier drafts.
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Franck L. B. Meijboom
Ethiek Instituut
Utrecht University
Heidelberglaan 2
The Netherlands
Fax: +31 30 253 9410
... Similarly, Ji et al. (2019) demonstrated that offline contact is an important first step before trust can be built online. Furthermore, trustworthiness can be created through transparency and the provision of information only if they are accompanied by the communication of values and how they are applied in respective actions (Meijboom et al. 2006). In any case, providing members with information through channels which they can access whenever they have time seems to be more flexible than participating in direct interactions. ...
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Opaque value chains as well as environmental, ethical and health issues and food scandals are decreasing consumer trust in conventional agriculture and the dominant food system. As a result, critical consumers are increasingly turning to community-supported agriculture (CSA) to reconnect with producers and food. CSA is often perceived as a more sustainable, localized mode of food production, providing transparent production or social interaction between consumers and producers. This enables consumers to observe where their food is coming from, which means CSA is considered suitable for building trust in food (production). However, it remains unclear how exactly members' trust in 'their' farmers is built. To determine the factors that predict members' trust in CSA and its farmers, and the importance of these factors when compared to each other, we conducted a quantitative study among CSA members in Germany and applied a multiple regression model (n = 790). The analysis revealed that trust in CSA and its farmers is influenced by "reputation", "supply of information", "direct social interaction" and the "duration of CSA membership". Other factors such as the "certification status of the CSA farm" and "attitudes toward organic certification" did not significantly predict trust. We conclude that producers' willingness to be transparent already signals trustworthiness to CSA members and is more important to members than formal signals. Other actors within the food system could learn from CSA principles and foster a transition toward a more regionalized value-based food system to help restore agriculture's integrity. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s10460-022-10386-3.
... We have highlighted the meaning of reliability (Meijboom et al., 2006) by distinguishing it from 'trust': trust presupposes that the partner acts in my interest (Hartmann, 2010;Herzog, 2013). Whoever trusts assumes goodwill towards the person whom he trusts and whom he considers trustworthy. ...
... The results furthermore supported a thesis of a strong emotional aspect to trust in organic marketplaces (Meijboom et al. 2006) and observations of PGS and their markets as being characterized by a strong consumer-producer relationship (Carlón 2015) and as an environment in which consumers are able to socialize (Kumpuniemi 2019). CSM consumers' trust in organic product integrity may thus be determined by these factors rather than by their awareness and knowledge about certification systems in place at CSMs. ...
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Alternative food networks (AFN) are argued to provide platforms to re-socialize and re-spacealize food, establish and contribute to democratic participation in local food chains, and foster producer–consumer relations and trust. As one of the most recent examples of AFN, Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) have gained notable traction in attempting to redefine consumer-producer relations in the organic value chain. The participation of stakeholders, such as consumers, has been a key element theoretically differentiating PGS from other organic verification systems. While research on farmer participation in PGS is attracting interest, consumer participation is still widely overlooked. Using a mixed methods approach, this paper describes five PGS markets in Mexico, Chile and Bolivia. A survey was conducted with consumers in the PGS markets to explore their awareness of the PGS, how consumers participate in the PGS, and their level of trust in the respective PGS and its certified products. Results showed a low level of awareness of PGS among market consumers, few participation possibilities, and minimal consumer participation overall. Nevertheless, trust in organic quality was generally high. Consumers primarily relied on the direct relationship with producers and the PGS market itself as sources of trust. These results provide novel insight into PGS consumer-market interactions, and contribute to discussions concerning social embeddedness, awareness and participation within AFN.
... Lebensmittelskandale treten entlang der Wertschöpfungskette immer wieder auf und verbreiten sich schnell über nationale Grenzen hinweg (Meijboom, Visak, & Brom, 2006). So hat das Thema Lebensmittelsicherheit im Kontext des Verbrauchervertrauens in die Akteure der Lebensmittelkette viel Aufmerksamkeit erhalten, von der bovinen spongiformen Enzephalopathie (BSE), besser bekannt als Rinderwahnsinn (Smith, Young, & Gibson, 1999) im Jahr 1996 und der Dioxinkrise in Belgien 1999 (Verbeke, 2001) bis hin zum Pferdefleischskandal 2013 (Manning & Smith, 2015) und dem Betrugsfall mit Halal-Fleisch in Großbritannien (Fuseini, Wotton, Knowles, & Hadley, 2017) -um nur einige zu nennen. ...
en Demand for sustainable food products has continued to grow in the past decade. Consumers have not only expressed more interest in environmentally friendly products, but producers have been willing to expand and market sustainable products. As a signal, eco-labels are intended to communicate about specific environmental product properties from producers to consumers. Because eco-labels communicate credence properties, trust plays a significant mediating factor, as information asymmetry is present. Consumers must rely on producers acting in good faith to provide accurate claims while consumers must simultaneously avoid misinterpretation of the label. Building upon previous research on the role of trust in eco-label preferences, this exploratory study seeks to evaluate how US consumers' level of trust in three major institutions (US government, corporations, and non-profit organizations) to protect the environment shapes their preference for six major eco-labels in the market (Fairtrade, local, natural, non-genetically modified organism [GMO], organically grown, and certified organic). The analysis utilizes 2016 survey data obtained from the Natural Marketing Institute. The aim is to provide a basis in which to further examine institutional mechanisms for improving label signaling, which could minimize consumer skepticism and potentially increase environmentally conscious consumerism. In addition to confirming the profile for typical eco-label consumers, the results demonstrate that trust in non-profit organizations is positively associated with expressed preferences for certified Fairtrade and certified organic foods. Trust in government is a significant explanatory factor for natural labeling preferences whereas those that express very high interest in organic labels indicated trust in corporations. Resumen es La demanda de productos alimenticios sostenibles ha seguido creciendo en la última década. Los consumidores no solo han expresado más interés en productos amigables con el medio ambiente, sino que los productores han estado dispuestos a expandirse y comercializar productos sostenibles. Como señal, las etiquetas ecológicas pretenden comunicar acerca de las propiedades ambientales específicas del producto de los productores a los consumidores. Debido a que las etiquetas ecológicas comunican propiedades de credibilidad, la confianza juega un factor mediador importante, ya que existe asimetría de información. Los consumidores deben confiar en que los productores actúen de buena fe para proporcionar declaraciones precisas, mientras que los consumidores deben evitar al mismo tiempo la mala interpretación de la etiqueta. Sobre la base de investigaciones anteriores sobre el papel de la confianza en las preferencias de etiquetas ecológicas, este estudio exploratorio busca evaluar cómo el nivel de confianza de los consumidores estadounidenses en tres instituciones principales (gobierno de EE. UU., corporaciones y organizaciones sin fines de lucro) para proteger el medio ambiente da forma a su preferencia por seis etiquetas ecológicas importantes en el mercado (Comercio Justo, local, natural, sin OGM, de cultivo orgánico, orgánico certificado). El análisis utiliza datos de encuestas de 2016 obtenidos del Natural Marketing Institute. El objetivo es proporcionar una base para examinar más a fondo los mecanismos institucionales para mejorar la señalización de las etiquetas, lo que podría minimizar el escepticismo de los consumidores y aumentar potencialmente el consumismo consciente del medio ambiente. Además de confirmar el perfil de los consumidores típicos de etiquetas ecológicas, los resultados demuestran que la confianza en las organizaciones sin fines de lucro se asocia positivamente con las preferencias expresadas por los alimentos certificados FairTrade y orgánicos certificados. La confianza en el gobierno es un factor explicativo importante para las preferencias de etiquetado natural, mientras que aquellos que expresan un interés muy alto en las etiquetas orgánicas indicaron confianza en las corporaciones. 摘要 zh 过去十年, 对可持续食品的需求持续增长。消费者对环保产品表现出更多兴趣, 并且生产商也愿意扩大和销售可持续产品。作为一种信号, 生态标签旨在从生产者向消费者传达特定的环境产品属性。由于生态标签传达了信任属性, 因此信任发挥了重要的中介作用, 因为存在信息不对称。消费者必须依靠真诚行事的生产商提供准确的声明, 同时消费者必须避免对标签产生误解。基于关于“信任在生态标签偏好中的作用”的以往研究, 本探索性研究试图评价美国消费者对保护环境的三大机构(美国政府、公司和非营利组织)的信任程度如何影响他们对市场上6种主要生态标签的偏好, 这些标签分别为:公平贸易、本地(食品)、天然(食品)、非转基因、有机种植、有机认证。分析使用了从自然营销研究所(Natural Marketing Institute)获取的2016年调查数据。目的是为“进一步分析用于改进标签信号的制度机制”提供基础, 这可以最大限度地减少消费者的怀疑并可能增加具有环保意识的消费主义。除了确认典型生态标签消费者的概况外, 结果还表明, “对非营利组织的信任”与“表达对经认证的公平贸易食品和有机认证食品的偏好”呈正相关。对政府的信任是天然标签偏好的一个重要解释因素, 而那些对有机标签表现出强烈兴趣的人则表明了对企业的信任。
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Sustainability communication has been an increasing focus globally for many diverse and complex resource-based industries, including beef production, due to an increase in public scrutiny. However, this has received limited research interest. This study, drawing on in-depth interviews, explores key internal and external stakeholders’ perceptions of sustainability communication challenges using the Australian beef industry as a case study. Diverse views about public perceptions, the role of communications in trust, and internal issues reflect challenges such as industry culture, isolation, and industry complexity and breadth. This research highlights and discusses a range of sustainability communication issues in complex contexts.
Purpose Drawing on signalling theory and focusing on independent restaurants, this study aims to investigate how business signals (transparency information and exposure) affect business transparency, food authenticity and, ultimately, purchase intentions. Design/methodology/approach Using a 2 × 2 between-subject experimental design, Study 1 examines the recipe and an internet-famous restaurant, and Study 2 assesses the food supply chain and a celebrity-owned restaurant. Analysis of covariance and PROCESS are used to analyse the data. Findings The results suggest that while revealing information on recipes and food supply chains positively affects business transparency, exposure has no significant impact. Additionally, secret recipes and revealed food supply chains contribute to higher food authenticity, whilst being a celebrity owner or internet-famous restaurant negatively affects food authenticity. Research limitations/implications Restaurant managers must be strategic and selective about the kinds of business signals they wish to reveal to customers. Secret recipes lead to higher food authenticity, whereas the revealed recipes and revealed food supply chains elicit higher business transparency. Independent restaurants should not rely on celebrity owners or seek internet fame, as neither type of exposure contributes to transparency or authenticity. Originality/value This study advances the theoretical understanding of signalling theory relating to the determinants of transparency and food authenticity in a hospitality context. Contrary to previous studies, it reveals that exposure, as a transparency signal, has no impact on either business transparency or food authenticity. It extends knowledge and understanding of different types of independent restaurants, especially internet-famous restaurants.
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It is evident that sustainable meat consumption and production require shared responsibility for actions and consequences by consumers and producers. Therefore, this study aimed to identify the relevant focus areas within the meat food value chain that consumers attach relevance to. Furthermore, the study provides an understanding of potential actions of consumer social responsibility (CNSR) and reasons for not taking responsibility. The study is based on an online consumer survey (n = 1003) including standardized and open-ended questions. Data were analyzed via content analysis using a combination of inductive and deductive analyses in an iterative process. Results reveal that consumers consider animal husbandry as the core area where there is a need to take responsibility. This is followed by food safety, slaughtering, and transport, while environment and social issues related to the working conditions of employees are judged to have lower relevance. In most focus areas, the large majority of respondents attribute responsibility to one or several of the other stakeholder groups but not to consumers of meat products. Recommendations for the meat sector as well as for policymakers are derived in this paper to further encourage meat consumers to take their part of the overall responsibility.
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Resumo: A partir da crítica ao modelo agroalimentar industrial produtivista, as redes alimentares alternativas emergem por meio, particularmente, de uma reaproximação entre produtor e consumidor, visando ao resgate de relações de confiança interpessoal. Nessas redes, destaca-se o interesse pelos alimentos orgânicos. Com esse ponto de partida, este artigo visa apresentar uma análise sobre as formas de confiança adotadas pelos consumidores de alimentos orgânicos, utilizando um estudo de caso sobre o município de Sorocaba/SP. Para tal propósito, foram realizadas entrevistas semiestruturadas, acrescidas de informações obtidas por um levantamento on-line prévio. Como resultados, foi observada uma clara distinção nas formas de confiança adotadas pelos consumidores, representadas pela valorização de mecanismos institucionais de reconhecimento orgânico e de relações interpessoais de confiança. Por outro lado, a falta de clareza do que são os alimentos orgânicos e seus mecanismos de reconhecimento abrem espaço para prosperar um mercado informal de orgânicos, no qual pairam dúvidas sobre a qualidade orgânica dos alimentos, em ambiente favorável a dissimulações e fraudes.
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Purpose Ecolabels will undoubtedly play a central role in promoting more sustainable production methods and consumption behaviors. Although numerous recent studies have explored consumer awareness, interpretation, and preferences towards ecolabels and certifications, little is yet known about how they perceive the regulatory schemes that underpin them. Design/methodology/approach Data were collected using a survey answered by a representative random sample of 1032 Canadian consumers. Unconstrained partial-proportional odds models were used to perform statistical analyses. Findings Our results suggest that consumers generally do not differentiate between regulatory schemes for organic, local, and non-GMO products. The level of perceived control and strictness appears to be influenced by multiple variables involving risk perception, trust, and motivations, although this influence varies across labels. Research Limitations In addition to geographical specificities, our survey includes self-reported variables which might be subject to desirability biases and intention variables which do not necessarily predict behavior. Finally, our study does not consider interaction effects, since claims and ecolabels have not been studied in relation to specific products. Practical implications These misperceptions about ecolabels’ regulatory schemes could be addressed through better communication about schemes and certifications, although we agree that information alone would not be enough to deal with the trust issue suggested by our results. Deliberative and behavioral approaches might be more efficient to embed consumers’ values, perceptions, and concerns related to food labeling and certifications into the policy-making process. Originality/value This work explores the role played by risk perceptions, trust, egoistic and altruistic motives, and the importance of third-party certifications in the consumer’s understanding of ecolabels’ regulatory schemes.
Some philosophers hold that trust grows fragile when people become too rational. They advocate a retreat from reason and a return to local, traditional values. Others hold that truly rational people are both trusting and trustworthy. Everything hinges on what we mean by 'reason' and 'rational'. If these are understood in an egocentric, instrumental fashion, then they are indeed incompatible with trust. With the help of game theory, Martin Hollis argues against that narrow definition and in favour of a richer, deeper notion of reason founded on reciprocity and the pursuit of the common good. Within that framework he reconstructs the Enlightenment idea of citizens of the world, rationally encountering, and at the same time finding their identity in, their multiple commitments to communities both local and universal.
Even though several branches of philosophy meet in the notion of trust, it has nevertheless been largely neglected by mainstream philosophy. Arguably, most existing analyses fail to give a just account of the reality of human experience. The author believes that this is not a coincidence but symptomatic of the irrelevance of received ideas of rationality for crucial areas of human agency. `Individualist' approaches, he argues, can be accused precisely of ignoring fundamental questions about the nature of the individual. Expanding on the works of Wittgenstein, Winch, and others, in Trust: The Tacit Demand the author demonstrates the conceptual significance of our dependence on others. The discussion stretches over philosophical psychology, epistemology, political philosophy and moral philosophy. The book may be of interest to anyone in philosophy, psychology or the social sciences.
The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
This article defines corporate social performance (CSP) and reformulates the CSP model to build a coherent, integrative framework for business and society research. Principles of social responsibility are framed at the institutional, organizational, and individual levels; processes of social responsiveness are shown to be environmental assessment, stakeholder management, and issues management; and outcomes of CSP are posed as social impacts, programs, and policies. Rethinking CSP in this manner points to vital research questions that have not yet been addressed.
Trustful interaction serves the interests of those involved. Thus, one could reason that trust itself may be analyzed as part of rational, goaloriented action. In contrast, common sense tells us that trust is an emotion and is, therefore, independent of rational deliberation to some extent. I will argue that we are right in trusting our common sense. My argument is conceptual in nature, referring to the common distinction between trust and pure reliance. An emotional attitude may be understood as some general pattern in the way the world or some part of the world is perceived by an individual. Trust may be characterized by such a pattern. I shall focus on two central features of a trusting attitude. First, trust involves a participant attitude (Strawson) toward the person being trusted. Second, a situation of trust is perceived by a trusting person as one in which shared values or norms motivate both his own actions as well as those of the person being trusted. As an emotional attitude, trust is, to some extent, independent of objective information. It determines what a trusting person will believe and how various outcomes are evaluated. Hence, trust is quite different from rational belief and the problem with trust is not adequately met in minimizing risk by supplying extensive information or some mechanism of sanctioning. Trust is an attitude that enables us to cope with risk in a certain way. If we want to promote trustful interaction, we must form our institutions in ways that allow individuals to experience their interest and values as shared and, thus, to develop a trusting attitude.