Food Science & International Trade Law

As part of a recent assignment we examined African participation at the international standards setting bodies related to the WTO, being the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and the International Organization for Epizootics (OiE). We found African participation to be relatively limited especially in the scientific committees of these bodies. We noted that it is critical to participate in these scientific committees for this is where food standards are generated. It should therefore be part of any country’s trade policy strategy, especially given that the WTO effectively outsources the standards generation function to these sister organisations, using the resultant international standards as key references in assessing trade compliance of policy measures.

In contributing to furthering this notion, we recently supported the South African Association for Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) by presenting the regulatory aspects of food trade as part of the annual SAAFost Road Show. With around 1 400 members, SAAFoST is the South African national association concerned with advancing the knowledge of food science and technology by encouraging scientific research through various channels, including educational activities. The event was hosted at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and included speakers from across the food sector, including Woolworths, Nampack and Orley Foods.

The South African food industry has become aware of the international dimensions of food safety issues to the extent that the Agricultural Trade Forum (the stakeholder body advising the government on agricultural trade issues) has decided to be regularly briefed on developments within the WTO SPS Committee with a view to being more proactive at the relevant international bodies dealing with food standards.

Trade advisor, Hilton Zunckel, commented that it was critical that young food scientists were introduced to the trade aspects of their field as part of their training. ‘We need to sensitise the next generation of food scientists to the fact that their careers have the likelihood of intersecting with the field of international trade law, and that their functions are thus much wider than building a better salami as it were!’. The food industry is the second largest employer in South Africa, employing about 1 500 000 people while generating a turnover exceeding R20 billion annually.