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Keywords:

  • Consumer empowerment;
  • ethical consumer;
  • food labelling;
  • framing;
  • intrinsic value;
  • organic food;
  • political consumerism

Abstract

For dealing with various societal problems, ‘political’/‘ethical’/‘responsible’ consumerism is often discussed as an effective democratic and participatory tool. However, political consumerism – along with its tools, such as product labelling – is often conceived and discussed in oversimplified ways. Instead, the tension between scientific complexity, knowledge uncertainty and a codified, standardized label involves extensive political strategy, interest conflicts and simplified framings of the consumers’ roles as political decision makers. The purpose of this paper is to analyse how criteria for organic food labelling have been simplified, or framed, within various versions of political consumerism in policy debates. The more general purpose is to examine variations of what consumerism may entail theoretically and practically. Examples are chosen of organic food labelling in the US. The analysis is based on framing theory. The first distinction is made between framings surrounding the extrinsic and intrinsic values of consumerism (i.e. consumer empowerment towards an external goal, or as an overriding principle of democracy). The second distinction is between product- and process-oriented consumerism (i.e. consumer empowerment with regard to the purchased goods or concerning the ‘invisible’ production and disposal processes). These distinctions may facilitate critical examinations of criteria, processes and communication of consumer-related policies.