Download 220-0-0-0-0-J Brice Abstract - Limits to Transparency

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Limits to Transparency: Risk, Knowledge and the government of food supply
chains in the shadow of Horsegate
The European horsemeat scandal of 2013 was widely characterised as a crisis of technologically
intensive, opaque, convoluted and poorly governed international food supply chains. In its
aftermath, British food businesses were urged to acquire greater knowledge of their suppliers and of
the provenance of the food they sold. This, it was argued, would enable them to better anticipate
and manage the potential risks lurking within their supply chains, and thus prevent future food fraud
scandals. As enhanced supply chain transparency was promoted as the solution to the ‘food fraud
crisis,’ purveyors of transparency solutions promised that contemporary data capture and analysis
technologies would make centralised oversight and control of food supply chains a reality, and
banish ‘bad surprises’ such as meat adulteration to the past.
Yet four years on, many food businesses’ knowledge of their supply chains still extends only as far as
their immediate suppliers. In this paper I will investigate why the promised technological fix to the
problem of supply chain opacity has failed to materialise. I will argue that its continued absence is
not simply the result of technical difficulties or corporate intransigence, but instead stems from food
businesses’ obligations under consumer protection legislation to take all reasonable precautions to
prevent their associates from violating food law. This duty means that it is often safer for food
businesses to cultivate a ‘strategic ignorance’ of the identities and activities of those involved in their
supply chains, for possession of such knowledge might expose them to prosecution in the event of a
breach of food law. In this paper I will examine the legal technologies which generate and maintain
this strategic ignorance of food supply chains, and explore their role in forestalling the promised
emergence of transparent food production and provisioning systems.