Food Safety and Global Health: An International Law Perspective

Stefania Negri

Following the recurrence of serious events of food contamination across the globe, food safety has become a matter of ever increasing international concern and the World Health Organization has defined foodborne diseases as a global public health challenge. Protecting global health from foodborne hazards is a compelling duty and a primary interest of both States and non-State actors; it calls for enhanced proactive cooperation between national and international institutions. Unfortunately, the present state of international law on food safety regulation and governance is still unsatisfactory and reforms are desirable in many respects. This paper suggests that improvements and progresses could be achieved in three major areas of intervention: a) the human rights framework, where the profile of the emerged right to safe food should be raised by way of express recognition in international human rights law, backed up by authoritative interpretation by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and strengthening of accountability and remedial measures; b) the regulatory framework, where trade and health issues related to food safety should be addressed in a way that contributes to easing tensions between trading parties while prioritizing consumer protection over freedom of trade; c) the sanitary framework, where international preparedness and response to public health hazards posed by foodborne diseases should benefit, where appropriate, from the extended application of the International Health Regulations and the possible devise of enforcement measures aimed at ensuring international health security.