Responsible Innovation in Food Technology: about the intricate web of soft impacts, (ir)responsibilities, and mutual lack of trust

Thus far, ‘responsible innovation’ restricts itself to taking into account negative impacts of emerging technologies on safety, health and environment. But many technologies also impact our culture, morals and politics. The public holds technologists accountable for these ‘soft impacts’, but the latter typically feel unable, or unwilling, to integrate those impacts in their research, judging them non-quantifiable, controversial, or – at best – private. This research seeks to improve the dialogue between of science and society – considered to be the hallmark of any responsible innovation – on these soft impacts, and their integration into innovation. This is necessary, because societal acceptance of emerging technologies depends partially on society trusting technologists to take these wider concerns into account. A complication is that societal appreciation of soft impacts is not stabile, but is coshaped by the technological innovations. Thus, the dialogue between society and science is bound to be dynamic and permanent. Our research combines alpha, beta and gamma expertise, providing an overview of the ‘soft’ controversies regarding food technology, organizing fruitful stakeholder interactions, and investigating if and how those concerns can be translated to research. The betas provide the state of the art and prospects of their fields. The philosophy PhD student surveys the controversies regarding food technology, expands the parameters of public reason so that these can encompass soft impacts, and analyses techno-moral change. The social sciences PhD student studies the ‘rhetoric’ of discussions concerning soft impacts and research agendas, and designs ways to make stakeholders self-reflexive about the contingencies of hard/soft and public/private distinctions.