Food Industry Ethics, Regulatory Reform, and Corporate Citizenship

I blogged yesterday about the importance of sound government and rule of law as a background condition for ethical corporate behaviour. Here in Canada (as in most other developed economies) we grumble about our government and our system of regulation, but we’re actually relatively lucky that way, by world standards. Our economy is thriving (quarter-to-quarter hiccups aside) in large part because businesses here have the luxury of doing what they do against a background of generally-stable government and generally-sane regulations.

But that’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement. One key area in need of (constant?) improvement is food policy. It’s an incredibly complex area, with an enormous range of interests at stake and a huge range of values at play. Public policy is, as a result, pretty messy. For more details, see this new report by the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for Food in Canada (CFIC). Here’s a summary, from Better Farming: Canada’s food policy system overloaded: report

Out of date policies, laws and regulations as well as conflicting government involvement stymie innovation and economic growth in the country’s food sector says Conference Board of Canada report…

(You can download the report here.)

Economic growth in the food sector isn’t of direct relevance to consumers (though it is of direct relevance to those employed in the sector). But consumers still have plenty of reason to care about food policy. All questions of food policy have a more or less direct impact on the health and/or pocketbooks of consumers; and hence all questions of food policy raise ethical issues (many of which I’ve blogged about). For example, according to the BF story:

The report reviews the Canadian approach to food regulation based on a study of six issues: food additives, genetically modified foods, health benefit claims, country-of-origin labeling, inspection, and international trade. [hyperlinks added]

Industry, of course, has a role to play in helping to reform regulation in this area. But in doing so, industry must think especially carefully about its ethical obligations. Normally, the slogan “Play by the Rules!” sums up the lion’s share of a company’s obligations. But when the issue at hand involves figuring out what the rules — i.e., regulations — should be, industry needs to consider very carefully the full ethical weight of the notion of “corporate citizenship,” and remember that a citizen is someone who participates in policy debates with an eye not just to their own interests, but to the public good as well.

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Thanks to Prof. Richard Leblanc for bringing the CFIC report to my attention.

1 comment so far

  1. Mischa on

    In Sweden we have a similar dilemma, too many participants trying to discuss a very complex area. Stakeholder relationship or collaborations creates conflict, and i agree with you when you say “a citizen is someone who participates in policy debates with an eye not just to their own interests, but to the public good as well” Consumers tend to forget about their power in this area, and we need to react and care about these kind of issues. A sustainable food policy is something to strive for, where ethical jugement has to affect all steps in consumtion. What would you say is the most important recent progress in Canada concerning these issues?


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