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Information about food safety for selected nations

The discussion on this page focuses on international standards. The next several points include links to web sites of food regulatory agencies for several other nations. The purpose of providing the links is to offer an opportunity to view how other nations address food safety concerns. Note both the similarities and differences.

" The CFIA develops and delivers programs and services designed to protect Canadians from preventable food safety hazards, to ensure that food safety emergencies are effectively managed, and that the public is aware of--and contributes to--food safety. "


"The Norwegian Food Safety Authority is a governmental body. Our goal is that consumers should have healthy and safe food and safe drinking water. We promote human, plant, fish and animal health, environmentally friendly production, and ethically acceptable farming of animals and fish. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority also performs duties relating to cosmetics and medicines, and inspects animal health personnel."

"The Food Standards Agency is an independent food safety watchdog set up by an Act of Parliament in 2000 to protect the public's health and consumer interests in relation to food."

  • India -- a website has been developed by Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi
  • Kenya -- Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) at http://www.kebs.org/; also note
    • " Food and Agriculture Department ... is responsible for the development of standards covering food technologies, food safety, fertilizers, agricultural produce, livestock and livestock products, poultry and poultry products, etc." See http://www.kebs.org/index.php?view=stdoverview
  • Uganda
    • Uganda National Bureau of Standards -- http://www.unbs.go.ug/
    • "Microbiology laboratory -- UNBS is mandated with ensuring that and regulating the quality of foods and
      other consumable (edible ) products such as water, fruit juices etc."
    • "Chemistry laboratory -- The chemistry laboratory provides services that help prevent contaminated and adulterated foods products from entering the market."



International Food Safety Standards

Participating (buying or selling; importing or exporting) in the world food market requires that one meets the expectations of trading partners; that is, food exporters must comply with the standards imposed by the importing nation where the food will be consumed. Consequently, a firm intending to export its product must comply with both the domestic and foreign laws.

  • This duplication of regulation adds cost and complexity. If the national standards differ, the firm is forced to devise a process that complies with both -- or perhaps abandons the attempt to export to the targeted market.
  • If the national standards are the same, the duplication still arguably adds unnecessary cost and burdens trade because the firm must repeat the process of demonstrating to the regulatory agency of both nations that the food is in compliance.

To ease the process, nations began to agree to accept imported food if 1) it met the standards of the exporting nation and 2) the standards and their administration in the exporting nation were determined by the importing nation to be equivalent to the standards of the importing nation. Thus, importing nations reviewed the laws and administration of the laws of the exporting nations to determine if there is equivalency. The assumption was that If there is equivalency of the laws and administration of the laws, a nation would accept imported foods that complied with the standards of the exporting nation.

  • An example would be USDA "Eligibility of foreign countries for importation of products into the United States" at 9 CRR 327.2.
  • Example of a report following a USDA FSIS on-site audit of France's meat and poultry inspection system in 2007.
  • How easy would it be for an importing nation to prevent competing imports by determining that there was "no equivalency" with an exporting nation?

Despite the benefit of eliminating the need for a firm to proceed through two nearly identical regulatory processes, the governments' efforts of determining equivalency remained a one-on-one (bi-lateral) process. For example, ten nations wanting to trade with each of the other nine nations would involve 45 equivalency determinations.

Nations soon devised a multi-lateral approach to the question of equivalency. This vision was based on the observation that if the standards for nation A are equivalent to the standards for nation B, and the standards for nation B are equivalent to the standards for nation C, logic would suggest that the standards for nations A and C should also be equivalent. Therefore, why not have the three nations enter into one multi-lateral agreement about equivalency, rather than three bilateral agreements? Why not also allow other nations to be part of such a multi-lateral agreement? Why stop there? Why not allow any nation that wants to trade with any other nation to do so as long as both nations agree to abide by the group's multi-lateral standards? Thus international food standards began to emerge.

The agreed-upon standards are ostensibly based on science, yet the politics of influencing trade and competition among nations have not been eliminated. Food standards are recognized as necessary, but it is still difficult to distinguish between "food standards to assure safety" versus "standards to control trade." Although international standards for food are not as developed as some national standards, expectations are that international food standards will continue to be refined.

International standards are likely to impact domestic standards. That is, if a nation wants its firms to participate in the world food trade, the firms will need to comply with the emerging, albeit voluntary, international standards. And because many businesses will not know for certain which of their product will be sold and consumed domestically and which will be sold internationally, the business will likely need to adhere to the international standards for all product. It is easy to envision that the international standards will not only be the standard for traded food, but also for food throughout nations involved in international trade -- which is nearly all nations.

  • Despite the support for multi-lateral agreements, the nations accept there will be times when unique standards will be justified. Thus the goal for the multi-lateral agreements may not be to achieve identical standards, but at least harmonized standards.
  • Will international food standards emerge as a de-facto preemption of national standards?

This page considers emerging international standards and how individual countries may proceed in the coming years.


Background -- Organizations

International standards - although voluntary - are emerging from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations and from the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. FAO is also a source of knowledge and information. We help developing countries and countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition for all. Since our founding in 1945, we have focused special attention on developing rural areas, home to 70 percent of the world's poor and hungry people."

Excerpt from FAO at Work

Also see FAO Food Safety and Quality

"The World Health Organization is the United Nations specialized agency for health. It was established on 7 April 1948. WHO's objective, as set out in its Constitution, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. Health is defined in WHO's Constitution as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

Excerpt from About WHO

"The Codex Alimentarius Commission was created in 1963 by FAO and WHO to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. The main purposes of this Programme are protecting health of the consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations."

Excerpt from Codex Alimentarius Welcome

Additional explanations of the Codex

  • FAO  Understanding the Codex Alimentarius
    • "The Codex Alimentarius ... has become the seminal global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies and the international food trade. The code has had an enormous impact on the thinking of food producers and processors as well as on the awareness of the end users - the consumers."
  • USDA  Codex Alimentarius
    • USDA has lead responsibility for representing the US at Codex sessions: "[t]he U.S. Codex Office, located in FSIS, USDA, is the U.S. Contact Point for the Codex Alimentarius Commission and its activities."

"The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world's trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business."

Excerpt from What is the WTO?

"The World Trade Organization came into being in 1995. One of the youngest of the international organizations, the WTO is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) established in the wake of the Second World War." 

Excerpt from The WTO in Brief: Part 1


Background -- Activities

"Article 20 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) allows governments to act on trade in order to protect human, animal or plant life or health, provided they do not discriminate or use this as disguised protectionism. In addition, there are two specific WTO agreements dealing with food safety and animal and plant health and safety, and with product standards."

"A separate agreement on food safety and animal and plant health standards (the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement or SPS) sets out the basic rules."

Excerpts from Understanding the WTO: the Agreements; Standards and safety

"An annex to the [WTO] Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement names (the following international standards):

Accordingly, the Codex standards are emerging as the international standards for food.


Additional Background on the OIE and IPPC

The standards of the OIE and IPPC are also identified by the WTO as providing standards for the international trade of animals and plants. This section briefly introduces these two sets of standards that complement the Codex.

Objectives of OIE (taken from http://www.oie.int/eng/OIE/en_objectifs.htm)

  • To ensure transparency in the global animal disease and zoonosis situation
  • To collect, analyse and disseminate scientific veterinary information
  • To provide expertise and encourage international solidarity in the control of animal diseases
  • Within its mandate under the WTO SPS Agreement, to safeguard world trade by publishing health standards for international trade in animals and animal products
  • To improve the legal framework and resources of national Veterinary Services
  • To provide a better guarantee of the safety of food of animal origin and to promote animal welfare through a science-based approach

    Terrestrial Animal Health Code
    Aquatic Animal Health Code


"The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is an international treaty whose purpose is to secure a common and effective action to prevent the spread and introduction of pests of plants and plant products, and to promote appropriate measures for their control."


EU signs up for international rules  Brussels, 20 July 2004

"The [EU] Agriculture Council has approved a revision of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to strengthen its role in setting international standards. Council also decided that the European Union should become a party to the IPPC in its own right, alongside the 25 EU Member States. Both decisions recognise the growing importance of the IPPC in the international trading system. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) recognises the right of WTO members to impose restrictions on imports if these are needed to protect their agriculture from plant diseases or pests. This right is set out in the WTO's Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS Agreement), which also calls on the IPPC to provide international standards to help ensure WTO members develop a harmonised approach and do not use such measures as unjustified barriers to trade. The revised Convention formalises the IPPC's Secretariat and establishes a governing body, the "Commission on Phytosanitary Measures", for the setting of International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures. These will be recognised under the SPS Agreement. The standard-setting process in the IPPC emphasises participation, consultation and technical competence. The new rules explicitly foresee the participation of bodies such as the EU."


Back to food:

The Codex standards for food are set by committees comprised of representaives from member nations.

"General Subject Committees are so called because their work has relevance for all Commodity Committees and, since this work applies across the board to all commodity standards, General Subject Committees are sometimes referred to as "horizontal committees". There are nine such committees:"

"Commodity Committees have responsibility for developing standards for specific foods or classes of food. In order to distinguish them from the "horizontal committees" and recognize their exclusive responsibilities, they are often referred to as "vertical" committees. There are 16 such committees:"

Excerpt from The Codex system: FAO, WHO and the Codex Alimentarius Commission

Process for setting standards

"The Procedure for the Elaboration of Codex Standards describes the way by which Codex standards are prepared and the various Steps in the process which ensure comprehensive review of draft standards by governments and other interested parties. It was comprehensively revised in 1993 to provide a uniform elaboration procedure for all Codex standards and related texts. The Procedure was further revised in 2004 to introduce the strategic planning process and critical review."

Excerpt from Codex Alimentarius Commission - 15th Procedural Manual, p.4 of pdf file.

The standards should not be used as barriers to trade

"Under the WTO agreements, countries cannot normally discriminate between their trading partners... Imported and locally-produced goods should be treated equally"

Excerpts from Understanding the WTO: BASICS Principles of the trading system

WTO's objective of trade neutrality is consistent with Codex

"The officials and experts who laid the foundations and determined the direction taken by activities of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme and the Codex Alimentarius Commission were first and foremost concerned with protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair practices in the food trade. They felt that, if all countries harmonized their food laws and adopted internationally agreed standards, such issues would be dealt with naturally. Through harmonization, they envisaged fewer barriers to trade and a freer movement of among countries, which would be to the benefit of farmers and their families and would also help to reduce hunger and poverty."

Taken from Codex and the international food trade

But there are exceptions; one is national health concerns

"Article 20 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) allows governments to act on trade in order to protect human, animal or plant life or health, provided they do not discriminate or use this as disguised protectionism. In addition, there are two specific WTO agreements dealing with food safety and animal and plant health and safety, and with product standards." 

"Member countries are encouraged to use international standards, guidelines and recommendations where they exist. However, members may use measures which result in higher standards if there is scientific justification. They can also set higher standards based on appropriate assessment of risks so long as the approach is consistent, not arbitrary."

Taken from Understanding the WTO: THE AGREEMENTS Standards and safety

Regional approach to distinct needs and concerns

Consistent with the idea that some areas have distinct needs, Codex encourages that distinct needs be identified and addressed by nations in the region, rather than individual nations. The hope is that a regional approach should lead to fewer issues than if distinct standards are established by individual nations.  However, a regional approach does not prohibit individual nations from addresses their needs.

"The [Codex Regional] Coordinating Committee[s are] responsible for defining problems and needs concerning food standards and food control of all Codex member countries of the region."



International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

Another entity that deserves some introduction is the International Organization for Standardization or ISO. Read the "Overview of the ISO System" at International Organization for Standardization

Standards being developed by agreement among businesses with emphasis on testing procedures and manufacturing processes, rather than product characteristics.  These standards are being referenced in business agreements.

  • ISO has addressed food products (TC 34)
  • ISO also has published standards to address food safety. See
    • ISO 22000:2005 -- Food safety management systems -- Requirements for any organization in the food chain
      • "ISO 22000:2005 specifies requirements for a food safety management system where an organization in the food chain needs to demonstrate its ability to control food safety hazards in order to ensure that food is safe at the time of human consumption." Even though this statement does not explicitly reference Codex and HACCP, prior statements included explicit reference.
    • ISO/TS 22004:2005 -- Food safety management systems -- Guidance on the application of ISO 22000:2005
    • ISO/TS 22003:2007 -- Food safety management systems -- Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of food safety management systems
    • ISO 22005:2007 -- Traceability in the feed and food chain -- General principles and basic requirements for system design and implementation
    • ISO 24276:2006 -- Foodstuffs -- Methods of analysis for the detection of genetically modified organisms and derived products -- General requirements and definitions


Information about Safety of US Food Imports and Exports

FDA and FSIS monitor US food imports and exports; this includes inspecting plants in other nations that export to the US.

Importing Food into the US

FDA --"All imported products are required to meet the same standards as domestic goods. Imported foods must be pure, wholesome, safe to eat, and produced under sanitary conditions;" taken from Import Program System Information

FDA conducts an International Inspection Program in fulfilling this mandate.

FDA Equivalence Evaluations (links to FDA's Affirmative Agenda for International Activities)

  • Many nations are willing to accept imported foods if they were produced under comparable standards imposed and enforced by the exporting nation. Thus many importing nations make an effort to determine (evaluate) whether the exporting nation has equivalent standards. Equivalence evaluations is the process importing nations use to determine whether the standards of the exporting nations are comparable.

Also see Importing Food ... into the United States

FDA  International Harmonization

"The harmonization of laws, regulations and standards between and among trading partners [is intended to] simultaneously facilitate international trade and promote mutual understanding, while protecting national interests and establish a basis to resolve food issues on sound scientific evidence in an objective atmosphere."

"The U.S. Codex Office, located in FSIS, USDA, is the U.S. Contact Point for the Codex Alimentarius Commission and its activities."

FSIS -- Import Information for meat, poultry and egg products

"Meat, poultry and egg products exported from another nation must meet all safety standards applied to foods produced in the United States. However, under international law, food regulatory systems in exporting countries may employ sanitary measures that differ from those applied domestically by the importing country. The United States makes determinations of equivalence by evaluating whether foreign food regulatory systems attain the appropriate level of protection provided by our domestic system. Thus, while foreign food regulatory systems need not be identical to the U.S. system, they must employ equivalent sanitary measures that provide the same level of protection against food hazards as is achieved domestically. FSIS evaluates foreign food regulatory systems for equivalence through document reviews, on-site audits, and port-of-entry reinspection of products at the time of importation."

Taken from Equivalence Process

U.S. Customs & Border Protection

"The Bioterrorism Act (BTA) is intended to protect the health and safety of the people of the United States from an intended or actual terrorist attack on the nation's food supply." taken from Bioterrorism

"U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) has more than 1,500 agriculture inspectors with specialized training to detect and stop certain identified prohibited agricultural items from entering the United States." taken from Agriculture Inspection Overview

"The National Center for Import and Export (NCIE) plays an integral role in APHIS' [USDA] mission of protecting American agriculture. Charged with several critical tasks, including:

  • facilitating international trade
  • monitoring the health of animals' presented at the border
  • regulating the import and export of animals, animal products, and biologics"

Recent developments about importing food into the US

  • FDA is required to participate in the multi-agency task of assuring a secure food supply (e.g., protect against bioterrorism threat); strategies to achieve this objective include food establishment registration, import notice, and traceability.
  • "Owners, operators, or agents in charge of domestic or foreign facilities that manufacture/process, pack, or hold food for human or animal consumption in the United States are required to register the facility with the FDA." See Registration of Food Facilities
  • "As of December 12, 2003, FDA must be notified in advance of any shipments of food for humans and other animals that are imported into the U.S., unless the food is excluded from Prior Notice."  See Notice of imports
  • "[edited] Domestic persons that manufacture, process, pack, transport, distribute, receive, hold or import food intended for human or animal consumption in the U. S. (excluding farms and restaurants) and foreign facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food intended for human or animal consumption in the U. S. must maintain for not longer than two years records needed by the Secretary to identify the immediate previous sources and immediate subsequent recipients of food, including its packaging, in order to address credible threats of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals." See Establishment and Maintenance of Records


Exporting Food from US

Government of exporting nations generally do not explicitly address exported foods; that is the responsibility of the importing nation. However to facilitate trade (economic activity), some exporting nations will provide information to the government of the importing nation, such as, is the food business in compliance with the exporting nation's domestic standards (this is assuming that the importing nation has determined that the standards of the exporting nation are adequate/equivalent). The exporting nation provides this information by issuing a certificate that the importing nation can then accept as certifying that the exporting firm is in compliance with the domestic standards of the exporting nation.

FDA -- Exports and Export Certificates

"Issue Certificates for Export - Issue Certificates for Export to U.S. food ... producers and exporters as necessary to satisfy the requests of foreign governments for U.S. attestation that the particular products are produced and marketed in the United States in general conformity with U.S. requirements."

Exporting Food ... from the United States

FSIS Export Certification Checklist

Export Information for meat, poultry and egg products (FSIS)


Resolving International Disputes -- WTO dispute resolution

The world does not have an international judiciary system but WTO nations have (by treaty) set up a process to settle disputes.

"Countries bring disputes to the WTO if they think their rights under the agreements are being infringed. Judgements by specially-appointed independent experts are based on interpretations of the agreements and individual countries' commitments.  The system encourages countries to settle their differences through consultation. Failing that, they can follow a carefully mapped out, stage-by-stage procedure that includes the possibility of a ruling by a panel of experts, and the chance to appeal the ruling on legal grounds." Taken from http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/inbrief_e/inbr03_e.htm

Other sites that may be of interest in understanding WTO dispute settlement process:


The next section addresses US rules for the production (pre-harvest) sector of the US food industry.

Last updated March 22, 2010

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