• dioxins in pork;
  • food safety;
  • networks;
  • RASFF;
  • risk communication


The 2008 contamination of Irish pork with dioxins was one of the most significant recent food safety incidents in the European Union (EU). While the contamination posed no real risk to public health, it tested the efficacy of EU food safety regulation and governance which has been considerably overhauled in the past decade. The exchange of risk information through networks of regulators is an important element of the EU food safety risk management framework. Networks are a much-lauded form of new governance, though they are not without their problems. In this paper, we address the question of why governance networks can fail. We examine this issues using the case study of the 2008 Irish dioxin contamination and explore the reason for the failure to make more substantial use of networks in the governance of that incident. We hypothesize that the reason for such failure may be found in three inherent tensions which exist in the design and management of networks, namely flexibility/stability, inclusiveness/efficiency, and internal/external legitimacy. The paper concludes that by ensuring the external legitimacy of the EU's Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF) through increased transparency of communications, the design of RASFF has stifled its internal legitimacy with regard to certain types of important information exchanges.