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Is it Safe to Eat That? Raw Oysters, Risk Assessment and the Rhetoric of Science

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Recently, oysters have been identified by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) as a risky food to eat because they may or may not contain the pathogenic bacteria Vibrio parahaemolyticus. The USFDA's attempts to manage the risk manifest themselves in a “Quantitative Risk Assessment”, a report that attempts to quantify and predict the number of oyster eaters that will fall ill from Vibrio. In seeking to produce knowledge and eliminate uncertainty, the USFDA, through the use of a discourse of quantification, does the opposite. Instead, we argue, documents such as risk assessments are best understood as kinds of rhetorical practice. According to this perspective, these documents are epistemologically and ontologically reductive, produce uncertainty, politicize the act of eating, and serve an ironic function.

Keywords: Diet and Health; Discourses of Quantification; Epistemology; Public Decision-Making; Rhetoric of Science; Risk Communication

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2008

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