Disposing of Risk: The Biopolitics of Recalled Food and the (Un)making of Waste
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I use food recalls—the removal from the market of food that violates laws or standardsas a lens to understand how efforts to secure the Canadian food system and Canadian consumers more broadly intersect with the limits of human control. I draw on the related concepts of biopolitics, biosecurity, and risk, as a frame for critically examining the imbroglio that constitutes the simultaneous control of microbial life on the one hand, and the enriching of human life on the other. Data come from interviews with 22 key informants; documentary analysis of Canadian government and industry documents publicly available or obtained through Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) requests; and attendance at a conference on food safety. This dissertation is comprised of three core studies. The first study uses microbiological end-product testing of food as a lens through which to better understand how (scientific) indeterminacy is managed in the food industry and in the context of regulatory enforcement. The second study situates food safety and food recalls as a site in which to better understand the challenge that entanglements of human and nonhuman pose to the security of the food system. From this foundation, I provide a critique of conventional notions of the Anthropocene in which I re-characterize the Anthropocene as a moment of indeterminacy and asymmetry rather than of profound human control and domination. The third study develops a conceptual map of the reverse supply chain (RSC; the processes and actors involved in handling recalled products) for recalled food. The RSC is synthesized with concepts of divestment and conduits from the interdisciplinary discard studies literature as a foundation to better understand the challenges to biosecurity and biopolitics that a move towards closed loop (reverse) supply chains may engender. Taken together, I suggest that the foodborne hazards we confront are often beyond human knowledge; the unknownunknowns associated with, and immanent in technoscientific intervention, microbiological abundance, and the complex sociomaterial entanglements of life and living. In these ways, and with respect to how recalled food is divested, the biopolitics and the biopolitical governance of food are inextricable from environmental considerations.
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