Standard setting is one of the regulatory authority’s main responsibilities, separate from its responsibilities to enforce standards. For the purposes of this section, standards means “established norms or codified requirements for a product, such as material specifications or technical standards for performance. Standards may be developed by regulatory agencies, public organizations, or industry associations” (Marucheck et al., 2011, p. 714). Tables 3-1 and 3-2 list some important organizations and describe their work in standard setting.
Proponents of standards maintain that their use helps traceability through the supply chain, eliminates redundant audits, and when, harmonized across markets, decreases bureaucracy. Others see standards as little more than fines on poor countries because of the high costs of compliance (Marucheck et al., 2011). A debate on this topic is outside the scope of this report. Regardless of the reasons these standards exist, quality assurance and adherence to international norms are essential as developing countries introduce regulated goods into the global marketplace.
Adherence to Food Standards
Adherence to international standards is a problem in the agri-food industry in many low- and middle-income countries. In these countries there is a large domestic market for products that stringent regulatory authorities would reject. People in developing countries often do not demand, for example, process certification or assurance of minimal pesticide residues. This may be because they are often not aware of the public health risks international standards aim to protect against. They may also assume, sometimes incorrectly, that it is possible to assess the producer’s quality practices at point of purchase when the market has few middle men. More importantly, these countries still struggle to feed their citizens; concerns about trace pesticide residues seem frivolous in comparison to hunger. The threat of death from starvation in the next month will dwarf theoretical cancer risks in 50 years.
In China, for example, food safety has only been an official priority for the past 12 years (Gale and Buzby, 2009). It is especially difficult in such a large country to keep the estimated 200 million farmers working plots of 2 acres or less abreast of good agricultural practices (Gale and Buzby, 2009). China’s roughly 400,000 cottage industry food processers face similar challenges (Gale and Buzby, 2009).
The involvement of the least developed countries and their institutions in international standard setting organizations such as Codex is often nominal. The Codex Trust Fund aims to correct this by supporting scientists from the least developed countries and small island nations to participate better at Codex (WHO, 2011a).