Private food safety standards play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of the foods we consume. A voluntary instrument, private standards are so widespread to have become de facto mandatory for suppliers who wish to access the most profitable markets. Developed by retailers and business coalitions and enforced through third-party certification, private food safety standards constitute one of the principal food safety governance instruments of agribusiness value chains. Albeit private and voluntary, such standards have profound public implications because they contribute to food safety and protect consumers' health. This article uses law and economics theory to identify their strengths and vulnerabilities and understand the relationship between public and private regulation. Specifically, it examines whether private standards can fulfill the public interest objective of protecting consumers' health and whether they compete with or rather complement public regulation. The article argues that private standards have emerged in response to food scares to coordinate complex food value chains and have become ever more relevant in the context of intense market globalization, an area in which public regulation often failed. Among the advantages of private standards, are their flexibility and ability to rapidly respond to new risks. Through their focus on management-based regulation and strong market incentives for producers, private standards promote compliance better than traditional inspection methods. Private standards also present several gray areas including increased risk of capture due to their limited transparency and gaps in enforcement by third-party certifiers. The article suggests areas that deserve additional scrutiny, especially the opacity of standards vis-à-vis consumers and the public sector and the quality and reliability of third party certification.

, , , ,,
European Journal of Law and Economics
Informatica en Recht; Informatics and Law

Fagotto, E. (2014). Private roles in food safety provision: The law and economics of private food safety. European Journal of Law and Economics, 37(1), 83–109. doi:10.1007/s10657-013-9414-z