Organizational reputation and risk regulation: The effect of reputational threats on agency scientific outputs

AuthorDovilė Rimkutė
Published date01 March 2018
Date01 March 2018
Organizational reputation and risk regulation: The
effect of reputational threats on agency scientific
Institute of Public Administration, Leiden
University, The Hague, The Netherlands
DovilėRimkutė, Institute of Public
Administration, Leiden University, Turfmarkt
99, The Hague 2501 EE, The Netherlands.
This article aims to explain the variation in the scientific risk
assessments conducted by two regulatory agencies: the European
Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the French Agency for Food,
Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES). To
explain the merits of scientific risk assessments that have caused
polarization within the EU, this article draws on bureaucratic repu-
tation theory. The theory argues that regulators are political orga-
nizations that are active in protecting their unique organizational
reputations. The findings obtained from interviews, direct observa-
tions, and primary documents yield support for this framework:
depending on reputational threats, agencies choose to emphasize
either their role as guardians of the prevailing social values, or
send strong professional signals by delivering a scientifically rigor-
ous risk assessment.
Scientific risk assessments are designed to provide an analytical instrument for assessing scientific knowledge regard-
ing potential hazards to humans and the environment (Peel 2010). For this reason, risk assessors' duties are deemed
to be a highly scientific pursuit, predominantly rooted in the technical-instrumental use of scientific knowledge and
technical data. However, the regulation of risks and hazards is highly polarized. Scholars observe that regulatory
agencies' scientific practicesthat is, the ways in which scientific knowledge is used in risk assessmentsvary consid-
erably (Jasanoff 1995; Rothstein et al. 1999; Rimkutė2015, 2016). The debates between independent regulators
become even more heated when it comes to environmental, chemical or foodstuff policy-making (Lodge and Wegrich
2011; Lofstedt and Schlag 2017). For instance, independent regulatory agencies take a different scientific stance on
pesticides, endocrine disruptors, air pollutants, and genetically modified organisms.
More recently, heated debates have emerged among independent regulators taking contrasting positions on the
Bisphenol A (BPA) issue, where one group of regulators argues for a stringent regulatory approach while another
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12389
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
© 2018 The Authors. Public Administration published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
70 Public Administration. 2018;96:7083.

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