Bodies of evidence. An anthropology of the health claim

  • K Hendrickx ((PhD) Student)
  • S├ębastien Brunet (Promotor)
  • Ine Van Hoywegehen (Co-promotor)
  • Serge Gutwirth (Jury)

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


ow can a food or food ingredient be proven healthy, without calling it a drug? In this thesis, I make an attempt at understanding the stakes of a heated debate involving scientists from the food industry, academia, and the European regulatory authorities. The centrality and importance of 'science' in the debate is remarkable, and merits our full attention. The 'science' that is disputed between 'industry' and 'the regulatory authorities', and that serves as a vehicle for their credibility and authority respectively, consists of a very particular practice of putting molecules to the test in clinical trials. The clinical trial in drug testing allows for making a qualitative leap from a molecule's biological action to its therapeutic effect. In the case of food, it is not permitted to define the molecule's therapeutics in relation to pathology, otherwise the substance tips over and becomes a drug. The shared concern of all scientists involved in the debate is to avoid this 'tipping point'. What the debate shows, is not so much an opposition between 'corporate science' and 'regulatory science', but an uneasy relationship between the ecology of pharmaceutical drugs, and an ecology-yet-to-be-made for food therapeutics. Such an ecology rests upon a pattern of collaboration -or agencement- between materials and humans pertaining to different realms of production, regulation and science. As such, the terms of the debate on healthy food ingredients can be reformulated in more precise terms than 'industry' versus 'the authorities', or 'good science' versus 'bad science', which only come to exacerbate a deeper-lying tension that is technical and political at once. At stake are our conceptions of health and disease, cure and prevention, and the professionals that have the authority to talk about health in present-day Europe.
Date of Award24 Jun 2014
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSerge Gutwirth (Jury), S├ębastien Brunet (Promotor) & Ine Van Hoywegehen (Co-promotor)


  • food
  • Health claims

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