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This paper explores some issues at the intersection of regulation and religion, as they apply to food. It reports on a work in progress examining the regulations and values that affect choices at food and drink outlets in an inner suburban street in Sydney.
It is part of a larger projected study of food as a central social, material and religious concern. In it we are exploring questions around community relations in a culturally and religiously diverse society. Here I focus on the ways religious, ethical and scientific considerations interact with regulatory regimes, whether those of government, industry, or religious bodies. Three case studies explore this range of intersecting claims and responsibilities. Religious requirements may be regulated by a religious council, Beth Din or Ulama; food safety is monitored by government and industry bodies; while consumer and animal rights organisations may be involved in demands for particular standards and the reliability of various claims for food. There is continuous negotiation between government, industry, religious or ethical bodies and consumer advocates over labelling and other regulations. Since food is ultimately a matter of consumption (indeed, it is the ultimate form of consumption), even religious regulation has much in common with other forms of consumer protection. The consumer wants to know, with some guarantee of the reliability of the certification or labelling, whether their food is safe, free range, halal, healthy, and so on.