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Unformatted text preview: The illusion of control: industrialized agriculture, nature, and food safety Diana Stuart Accepted: 10 December 2007 / Published online: 22 January 2008 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008 Abstract I explore the role of nature in the agrifood system and how attempts to fit food production into a large- scale manufacturing model has lead to widespread out- breaks of food borne illness. I illustrate how industrial processing of leafy greens is related to the outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 associated with spinach in the fall of 2006. I also use this example to show how industry attempts to create the illusion of control while failing to address weaknesses in current processing systems. The leafy greens industry has focused efforts on sterilizing the growing environment and adopting new technologies, while neglecting to change the concentrated structure of pro- cessing systems. Repeated breakdowns in these systems illustrate a widening fault line between attempted and failed control of nature in industrial food production. Keywords E. coli 0157:H7 Food safety Industrial agriculture Nature Technology Introduction Industrialized agriculture increasingly emulates the pro- duction, processing, and distribution characteristics of large-scale manufacturing. Agriculture has become more uniform and mechanized, while post-harvest processing offers more value added and packaged goods. Parallel- ing other industries, the agribusiness sector has also experienced significant consolidation of power: fewer decision-makers are responsible for larger quantities of food. To keep the high-volume food factories running, control is paramount. This entails controlling human and non-human actors, keeping them inline with the manufac- turing model. However, this kind of control may not be possible with agriculture, an industry which is very closely tied to biological entities and processes. Nature plays a primary role in agriculture, presenting a different context relative to manufacturing. Nature is not inert or external, but is a dynamic actor (Latour 2004 ). As indicated by Boyd et al. ( 2001 ), nature can present risks, uncertainties, and surprises to industry. Despite efforts to maintain control over nature, reoccurring breakdowns in the industrial agrifood system are increasing concerns about food safety. There are growing fault lines emerging from attempted and failed control. Food scares both high- light the impossibility of control and lead to additional attempts to manage, dominate, or eliminate nature. New technologies (the application of complex, man-made, and/ or mechanized tools) are increasingly prescribed to address failures in the food system. It is unclear whether these technologies represent a source of resilience within industrialized agriculture, or if they will ultimately lead to more widespread failures....
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