The sovereign right of a country to protect its citizens from food-borne health risks is recognised in the preamble and in Article 2.1 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Provided that measures to protect human health meet the obligations under the SPS Agreement, Member governments of the WTO are free to employ their own choice of policy instruments for food saftey purpose.
Since the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade talks in 1993, there have been significant agricultural policy reform and international trade liberalisation. The general trend towards market liberalisation has, however, been matched by increases in the level and scope of regulations relating to food products (Henson 1998; Henson and Caswell 1999). This is at least partly in response to an increase in demand for food safety (Kinsey 1993). Indeed, in a recent review, Roberts and DeRemer (1997) estimated that food safety standards accounted for 20 per cent of the restrictions on US agricultural exports in 1996. Analysts have pointed out that the increase in concern about food safety risks, particularly in wealthy democracies, is in some cases not supported by scientific evidence (Henson, 1998; Henson and Caswell, 1999). To the extent that food safety policies reflect these concerns, risk mitigation measures may be difficult to defend under the science-based tests of the SPS Agreement.