Date of Original Version
Leafy greens cause a growing proportion of foodborne illness outbreaks despite heavy investment in surveillance technologies designed to control pathogenic hazards in agriculture. To understand how the governing regime maintains authority despite continual lapses in control, I examine a deadly 2018 outbreak of Escherichia coli O157: H7 linked to romaine lettuce. By comparing the outbreak investigation and regulatory response to the questions not asked and actions not taken, I show how the regime’s methods of understanding the outbreak also organized its ignorance of dangers outside its carefully constructed field of vision. Applying agnotology theory, I argue that the industrial organization of leafy greens agriculture and the institutionalized non-knowledge of emergent social–ecological vulnerabilities coproduce one another, allowing the industrial food regime to avoid fundamental reforms that might enhance resilience. This case demonstrates that critical examination of organized non-knowledge in complex environmental governance systems can reveal limits to institutional learning and systemic reflexivity that impede sustainability transitions.
Patrick F. Baur; Missing the outbreak for the germs: Institutionalized non-knowledge and industrial power in agrofood safety governance. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 21 January 2021; 9 (1): 00041. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.2021.00041
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