Food Safety and International Competitiveness: The Case of Beef

By Thornsbury, Suzanne | Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, April 2002 | Go to article overview
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Food Safety and International Competitiveness: The Case of Beef

Thornsbury, Suzanne, Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

BOOK REVIEW: Spriggs, John and Grant Isaac. Food Safety and International Competitiveness: The Case of Beef. Oxon UK: CABI Publishing, 2001, 208 pp., $75.00. ISBN 0-85199-518-7.

Food safety is an issue intrinsic to agriculture and one that has received increased attention from regulatory, industry, and academic analysts. As the authors point out, new international rules under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), highly publicized outbreaks of food-borne disease, and the fact that eating is a fundamental part of human life all combine to raise the visibility of food safety concerns for consumers and for national governments. Policy decisions undertaken in response to these concerns have implications for the competitiveness of individual firms and national agricultural industries, particularly in a global environment.

It is the nexus between food safety policies and international competitiveness of the beef industry in four countries (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia) that underlies the discussions in this book. The first two chapters lay the groundwork for comparison of systems among the four countries. Chapter One introduces the idea that a viable food safety system is ultimately a partnership between government and industry, both entities with a vested interest in providing safe food but neither sufficient by itself to ensure success. Nomenclature for systematic analysis of the institutional arrangements governing national food safety systems is also introduced in Chapter One. Spriggs and Isaac distinguish between drivers of change (impetus for change in food safety regulations such as publicized incidents of food-poisoning), meta-rules (relevant government and non-government policies or decision-making processes), and institutional arrangements (structural outcomes, especially formal and informal rules, that arise from drivers of change and meta-rules). Chapter Two provides a discussion of current WTO and Codex provisions related to food safety regulations as international institutional arrangements.

Chapters Three through Six include detailed descriptions of the drivers of change, meta-rules, and institutional arrangements in each of the four subject countries. The information is detailed and well organized to allow cross-comparisons. At the end of each chapter is a brief section on implications of the identified structure.

Chapters Seven and Eight are the most interesting, and the most thought-provoking, in the book. Spriggs and Isaac define an "optimal" food safety system as one that will maximize the food industry's long-run international competitiveness, subject to achieving some generally agreed upon, scientifically based minimum standards on food safety. They then offer a number of ways in which countries might move towards this optimal point and judge the food safety systems in the four selected countries against this standard.

There are three explicit objectives listed in the introduction to this book: 1) to describe the major drivers for change in a number of important beef producing countries 2) to describe the institutional arrangements governing food safety internationally and in some important beef producing countries and 3) to discover the ingredients of an optimal food safety system and to evaluate the institutional arrangements in the various countries against this benchmark.

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