Diffusion of International Food Safety Standards: Developing Country Experiences
States have regulated public health for centuries by providing public goods such as clean air, water, and food to their citizens. Governments mandate levels of quality in food to prevent poisoning and deception of their people. In the United States, public health regulation has been one of the few areas where the courts have recognized a subjugation of individual rights to the common good, beginning in 1905 in a case which found that the state has a right to vaccinate a child against his parents' wishes (Gostin 2000). Thus the study of public health regulation, and within that food safety and quality, is an important one to understanding the state. Unlike efforts in some areas to de-regulate and/or move from command-and-control to market-based regulatory instruments -- such as the areas of telecommunications and environmental issues --the trend in food safety regulation is increased regulatory attention in countries all around the world. The European Union is in the process of creating a new Food Safety Agency as part of an effort to avoid some of its recent food safety scares. The United States Department of Agriculture is under increasing pressure to conduct more microbiological inspections at food processing plants as well as to obtain statutory authority to recall tainted food, rather than the voluntary process that currently exists. And in countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, strengthening food regulatory systems is of deep interest for countries that want to increase their trade in food. Moreover, regional integration organizations and trade agreements such as the European Union, Mercosur, and the Free Trade Area of the Americas all have a component of food standards. This paper asks whether international standards for food safety and quality affect domestic policies, and if so, how. The paper is organized as follows. The first section describes the Codex Alimentarius Commission and its role in international food safety and quality standards. The second section outlines the theoretical model for thinking about diffusion of these standards and the different ways they might influence domestic policies. The next three sections briefly describe how Argentina and the Dominican Republic relate to the Codex Commission, assess the level of influence of international standards in those countries, and outline some factors that contribute to the influence of standards. The paper concludes with some thoughts about the mechanisms by which diffusion of standards occurs.
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