The Paradox of E-Numbers: Ethical, Aesthetic, and Cultural Concerns in the Dutch Discourse on Food Additives

D.F. Haen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Persistent public distrust of food additives is often explained in terms of safety and health issues. The broad variety of ethical, aesthetic, and cultural concerns tends to be structurally ignored by food engineers and occasionally even by consumers themselves. The public controversy of food additives-commonly known as "E-numbers"aEuro"in the Netherlands is a case in point. Two discursive mechanisms prevent these concerns from becoming legitimate public issues: irrationalization and privatization. But these consumer concerns may not be as unreasonable as they seem, and they may even turn out to be not that private. As long as ethical, aesthetic and cultural concerns are not recognized by food engineers as legitimate issues, the controversy of food additives is not likely to find closure. Moreover, this lack of recognition blocks the opportunity for meaningful dialogue and trust building between food technology developers, policy makers, citizens and consumers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-42
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Issue number1
Early online date3 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • Consumer concerns
  • Food additives
  • Privatization
  • Public controversy
  • Trust

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