Legislative Implementation of the Food Chain Approach

By Vapnek, Jessica | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, October 2007 | Go to article overview
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Legislative Implementation of the Food Chain Approach

Vapnek, Jessica, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Food safety is an essential element of food security, since "adequate" food means food that is not only available, but also safe. Food safety systems have traditionally focused on end-product testing, which is an unsatisfactory means of ensuring safe food. An increasing focus on prevention has spurred interest in a food chain approach, which aims to control all steps in the food chain from production to consumption. Although the approach has drawn international attention in recent years, national lawmakers have lacked guidance on its implementation. This Article serves that need. Part II of the Article describes the international backdrop to the food chain approach, discusses the main characteristics of the approach, and considers how the food chain approach is, in some respects, already being implemented in some specific areas. As these implementations are only partial solutions, Part III outlines four areas for legislative action to implement the food chain approach more fully. Part IV concludes by raising some outstanding questions linked to the food chain approach while noting some of the advantages its implementation is likely to offer.


      A. Background
      B. International Context
      C. Characteristics of the Approach
      A. Overview
      B. Existing Legislation
      C. Areas for Legislative Action
         1. Establish a Coordinating Mechanism
            or Institution
         2. Cover All Sectors and All Steps
         3. Incorporate Prevention and a Risk-Based
         4. Review the Legislative Framework
            for Consistency
      A. The Transnational Problem
      B. Shared Responsibility
      C. Developing Country Concerns


Food security has traditionally been understood to mean the availability of adequate food stocks in times of need. (1) More recently, at least in the United States, the term has also come to refer to security of the food supply in light of potential bioterrorist attacks. (2) In fact, neither definition is sufficient. According to the World Food Summit Plan of Action of 1996, "Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life." (3) Ongoing policy work has provided further content to this definition, (4) confirming that issues of nutrition, safety, and cultural appropriateness of food are not separable but rather are integral parts of the "adequacy" standard. In other words, if the available food is not safe, nutritious, or culturally appropriate, it is not adequate, and food security does not exist.

Nutrition, safety, and cultural appropriateness of food are also necessary elements for the realization of the human right to food, a socioeconomic right recognized in numerous binding and non-binding legal instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. (5) The Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security set out government responsibilities with regard to nutrition and food safety in order to realize the right to food, and confirmed that food safety is an essential component of food security. (6)

Food safety has traditionally focused on the food processing sector and on inspections of finished products to assess compliance with established requirements. (7) Increasingly, this traditional approach to food safety is being recognized as an inadequate means of ensuring food safety because it involves action only after the harmful food has already been produced, (8) leading to the search for other strategies to ensure safe food.

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