Part 2: Regulatory Convergence

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Part 2

Food for Thought: Is Regulatory Convergence Too Much for the Industry to Swallow?

10th June 2016

Can the international drive to tackle obesity and food safety trump domestic interests? Julie Mandrille and Vanessa Chesnot of Grayling Brussels are one the side lines for this global food fight…

From guaranteeing the highest standards of food safety and promoting healthier choices, to encouraging sustainable production and consumption, national regulators have progressively adopted a wide range of regulatory standards to achieve these goals. But alignment across borders has proved to be a harder nut to crack.

Created in the early 1960s, the Codex Alimentarius – or “Food Code” – is the collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and other recommendations relating to the production, composition and labelling of safe and high quality food products. More than 50 years on, regulatory cooperation in the field of food policy is a reality. However, protectionism and cultural differences remain prominent barriers to true regulatory convergence.

What’s driving regulatory convergence efforts?

  1. International trade: The removal of trade barriers, especially non-tariff ones, has driven the alignment of regulations and standards in the food sector.

  2. The mediatization of food safety scandals: Food safety scandals, amplified by the international and social media, often drive discussions on stricter standards or even a ban on a certain substances. The banning of Bisphenol A (BPA) by Canada in baby bottles, for example, created a domino effect, fuelled by media attention.

  3. Public health concerns and the fight against obesity: The World Health Organization (WHO), together with the Codex, has been taking a leading role to drive convergence in the field of nutrition labelling, profiling and reformulation, as well as advertising and marketing to children.

What are the barriers to convergence?

Despite the significant drivers identified above, there remain significant hurdles to genuine regulatory convergence:

  1. Protectionism: The imposition of non-tariff trade barriers motivated by protectionism is still common practice in the agricultural field.

  2. Cultural differences, ethics and public acceptance: As a consumer-led business, the voice of consumers is paramount in shaping business and regulatory standards in the food and drink sector. Cultural differences therefore constitute a barrier to international or global regulatory convergence, when consumers do not accept an ingredient or product that is well accepted in another region, such as Genetically Modified ingredients (GMs), for example.

  3. Lack of scientific consensus: If there is one sector particularly subject to the struggle of emotions versus science, it has to be the food and drink sector. Whilst the imperative of food security and resource efficiency are pushing the industry to innovate and explore the use of nanotechnologies, GMs or cloning, science is not always unanimous.

Who’s setting the rules?

The key players are either part of the United Nations System or regional food safety authorities:

As the two world's biggest importers and exporters of agri-food products, the EU and US are leaders in the field of regulatory convergence in their respective regions – and to some extent internationally.

What does the future look like?

The conclusion of a deal between the EU and the US on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would be a regulatory convergence milestone, especially in the field of food. If both trade blocks – the biggest worldwide when it comes to agri-food products – where to strike a deal and establish regulatory cooperation in the field, this will most likely act as a catalyser for regulatory convergence in the field of food on a global scale. But with protectionism and a lack of public acceptance as obstacles, that’s a big ‘if’.

Read the full report here

Join the conversation on Twitter: #regcon #advantage

Julie Mandrille

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