Systemic Failure in the Provision of Safe Food

David A. Hennessy, Jutta Roosen, Helen H. Jensen
April 2002  [02-WP 299]

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Suggested citation:

Hennessy, D.A., J. Roosen, and H.H. Jensen. 2002. "Systemic Failure in the Provision of Safe Food." Working paper 02-WP 299. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University.


Many deficiencies in the capacity of a food system to deliver safe products are systemic in nature. We suggest a taxonomy of four general ways in which a systemic failure might occur. One relates to the connectedness, or topology, of the system. Another arises from mistrust on the part of downstream parties concerning signals on product attributes, production processes, and the performance of regulatory mechanisms. A third arises when asymmetric information leads to low incentives for preserving food quality. Finally, inflexibilities in adapting to different states of nature may leave the system vulnerable to failures. Innovations in information technology and institutional design may ameliorate many problems, while appropriate trade, industrial organization, science, and public infrastructure policies also may fortify the system.

Keywords: incentives, information, mixing, process design, systems analysis, technology.