Research Handbooks on the WTO series
Edited by Geert Van Calster and Denise Prévost
Chapter 9: Public perception of food safety risks under WTO law: a normative perspective
It is almost a truism that in an age of increasing globalisation of the food supply, food safety is no longer a domestic issue alone. As the contemporary interconnectedness of the world makes the globalisation of food supply inevitable, countries around the world are increasingly confronted on a daily basis with decisions concerning risks posed by tradable food products and their manufacturing processes. In response they tend to adopt protective measures that hinder trade in products and often trigger trade disputes. Recent examples of food safety measures include import bans and restrictions on pigs in the aftermath of the appearance of the H1N1 virus, on dairy products following the Chinese melamine scandal, as well as on Japanese feed and food products in the aftermath of the incident at the Fukushima nuclear power station. While the adoption of those measures may be necessary for the protection of public health, their implementation may also be motivated by a desire to shield domestic industries from food imports. It is indeed tempting for some States to compensate for the reduction in traditional barriers to trade, which has been induced by the GATT/WTO framework, by introducing non-tariff barriers grounded on health concerns.
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