Understanding the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement1
This publication is part of the Understanding Trade Policy Issues series. International trade liberalization
and the general globalization of the world economy over the past two decades has meant that growers, businesses, and community
groups must become familiar with trade polices and their terminologies to reap the benefits of globalization and to minimize
costs. Consequently, the aim of this series is to help people understand the issues involving the benefits and problems
associated with global trade.
This publication, the first of the series, discusses the term "WTO-SPS Agreement" (the Sanitary and Phytosanitary
Agreement under the World Trade Organization).
What Is the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary (WTO-SPS) Agreement?
WTO is the acronym for World Trade Organization. It is the only international body that sets and oversees
the global rules of trade between nations. At the heart of the WTO is a set of agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk
of the world's trading nations and ratified by their governments. These agreements are the legal ground rules for international
commerce. They encourage governments to keep their trade policies within agreed limits to everybody's benefit (http://www.wto.org ).
The Sanitary (human and animal safety) and Phytosanitary (plant safety) Agreement (SPS Agreement) is one such
agreement forming part of the 1994 Accords that established the WTO, which replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
(GATT). Regulations (http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/sps_e/sps_e.htm ) under the purview of the WTO-SPS Agreement include:
- the protection of animal or plant life or health within a territory from risks arising from the entry, establishment,
or spread of pest, disease, disease-carrying organisms, or disease-causing organisms.
- the protection of human or animal life or health within a territory from risks arising from additives, contaminants,
toxins, or disease-causing organisms in foods, beverages, or feedstuffs.
- the protection of human life or health within a territory from risks arising from diseases carried by animals,
plants, or products thereof, or from entry, establishment, or spread of pests.
- the prevention or reduction of the risks of other damages within a territory from the entry, establishment,
or spread of pests (Appendix A of WTO-SPS Agreement 1994, Annex A).
What Is the Economic Rationale for Governments to Become Involved?
The rationale for involving governments in establishing policies and implementing measures to prevent or
control the introduction and spread of invasive pests and diseases can be found in the economic concepts of public services
(goods) and externalities. As defined here, public service/good is something that provides a "free
rider" benefit (it is available to everyone). Since no one can take ownership, the government assumes the responsibility of
providing public services/goods (recouping costs by means such as taxation). One example of a public service is the measures
aimed at preventing or controlling the spread of invasive pests and diseases. The concept of a public service can easily be
extended to global public service when there is cooperation among governments of many countries to take action to reduce,
say, the threat of invasive pests and diseases.
An externality arises when the action or inaction of one party affects another party in a positive
or negative manner without the party responsible for the action or inaction being rewarded if the impact is positive or charged
if the impact is negative. For example, a negative externality may arise when imported goods arrive accompanied by invasive
pests or diseases, which may reduce domestic output and/or increase production costs. Usually the exporting country is not
made to stand the cost of damages to the importing country. In such cases where the market mechanisms alone fail to prevent
or correct such negative externalities, then governments are justified in providing regulations (public services) that will
prevent entry or reduce the risks of the threat.
The need for a government to protect its citizens and environment against imported externalities (such as
invasive pests and diseases) is recognized and embraced by the WTO Agreement (discussed below), which promotes increased
trade among countries. Take, for example, the following two scenarios:
- In the first scenario, government-imposed regulations to protect human and environmental resources from negative
externalities (e.g., the threat of harmful organisms) through trade barriers may benefit a country.
- In the second scenario, regulations imposed for the sole purpose of protecting domestic producers from
international competition may harm a country.
The first scenario is acceptable to the WTO, but the second scenario is not. It is this dual nature
of the SPS regulations--having on the one hand the potential to provide genuine protection, while on the other hand the potential
to be used for economic-based protection--that has made their implementation so contentious and has signaled the need for
an SPS Agreement among governments.
Why Does the WTO-SPS Agreement Promote Free Trade?
The main purpose of the WTO-SPS Agreement is to promote free trade. In principle, a country can increase
its real national income by more efficiently utilizing its limited resources and engaging in mutual trade, which means consumers
can enjoy a higher level of satisfaction and producers can sell their products in an expanded market. In general the global
economy as a whole is expected to benefit. However, when such trade encounters negative externalities or hidden costs (e.g.,
from importing harmful pests and diseases), acceptance of the general premise becomes blurred. The gains from trade are no
longer a certainty.
What Is the Genesis of the WTO-SPS Agreement?
The decision to negotiate a separate Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
during the 1986-1994 GATT Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations marked a turning point in the development of multilateral
trade rules and gave prominence to issues related to agricultural trade and the risk of importing invasive pests and diseases
and food-borne illnesses. Although the SPS measures were recognized as having the potential to impede trade and were considered
important under previous GATT rounds, they were relegated to being included as parts of other agreements and as exceptions
to the main provisions fostering increased trade. [SPS measures were found in the original GATT Articles, mainly Article XX
"General Exceptions," and later in the 1979 Tokyo Round Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, a plurilateral agreement
known as the Standards Code (http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/tif_e/fact4_e.htm ).] The impetus for negotiating a separate Agreement for SPS measures and for bringing quarantine issues to
the forefront can be attributed to the deeper integration of agriculture into the international trading system (open markets
and free trade) in general and to the decision to discipline the use of quantifiable nontrade barriers (quotas, subsidies,
and licenses) in particular. Many countries, including the United States, feared that, with a reduction in the use and levels
of these support measures, some importing countries might turn to technical trade barriers (notably SPS measures) as a means
of allowing them to continue providing support to their farming community. Consequently, the intent of the Agreement was to
ensure that when SPS measures were applied, they were used only to the extent necessary to ensure food safety and animal and
plant health, and not to unduly restrict market access for other countries (James and Anderson, 1998; Roberts, 1998).
What Are the Main Provisions of the WTO-SPS Agreements?
To achieve its objectives, the WTO-SPS Agreement contains a set of substantive and procedural provisions.
The substantive provisions are aimed at protecting human, animal, and plant health and life while preventing unjustifiable
barriers to trade. The procedural provisions create a framework to improve communication between members regarding proposed
SPS changes and to provide a forum for dispute settlement.
The WTO-SPS Agreement creates a framework for border protection and eradication measures while facilitating
freer trade. The Agreement is based on the following five general principles:
- Harmonization--encourages the adoption of measures that conform to international standards, guidelines,
and/or recommendations of international agencies.
- Equivalence--mutual recognition of different but equivalent measures to achieve international standards.
- Non-discriminatory--treating imports no differently than domestic produce.
- Transparency--notifying trading partners of changes in their SPS measures, especially when the measures
differ from international standards.
- Regionalization--allows continued exports from clean (disease-free) areas of affected countries.
The Agreement reaffirms the freedom of countries to choose their appropriate level of protection
against imported pests and pathogens. However, when the measures do not conform to international standards, the importing
country must scientifically investigate why the measures are needed and how they control risk.
The main substantive provisions can be found in Articles 5 and 6:
- Article 5.1, requires members (when possible and as appropriate) to base their SPS measures on risk assessment
methodologies developed under the auspices of the appropriate relevant international organization.
- Article 5.2 stipulates that countries should consider direct risk-related costs (e.g., potential production
or sales losses or control and eradication costs) both in assessing and managing risks through the choice of an SPS measure
to protect plant or animal health.
- Article 5.5 states that each member is also obligated to avoid arbitrary or unjustifiable distinctions in
the levels of protection it considers to be appropriate (if these distinctions would result in disguised restrictions on international
trade) to achieve the objective of consistency in the application of SPS measures.
- Article 6 requires that import protocols be based on risk assessments that evaluate the claims by exporting
countries that certain regions are free of quarantine diseases or pests, or that the prevalence of quarantine pests and disease
How Has the WTO-SPS Agreement Faired To-Date?
The jury is still out on the overall performance of the WTO-SPS Agreement. On the one
hand, the Agreement has successfully facilitated international trade--the main purpose of the Agreement--judging from the
number of disputes that have been settled. On the other hand, it has also increased the risk of
bioinvasion (i.e., foreign pests and diseases entering a country). By restraining a country's sanitary and phytosanitary regulations,
the Agreement has weakened national protections against bioinvasion (McNeely, 1999). This comes at a time when global concerns
for the environment are outpacing the development of proven control technologies (FAO, 2001). The global spread of unwanted
pests and diseases has increased significantly, as have their control costs. For example, Figure 1 illustrates the effect of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly referred to as
"Mad Cow Disease," which is a slowly progressive, degenerative, fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of adult
cattle. Since first being identified in 1986, there have been more than 180,000 cases reported worldwide, with 95 percent
of the cases occurring in the United Kingdom (UK). The disease has been linked to the fatal human illness Creutzfeldt-Jacob
Disease (CJD). The exact origin of BSE remains uncertain but it was apparently transmitted to cattle in feed supplements that
contained meat and bone meal. There is currently no method for diagnosis in early stages of infection and no cure for the
disease, either in animals or in humans. USDA spending, for example, on its emergency eradication program increased from approximately
$10 million dollars per year in the early 1990s to $334 million dollars per annum in 2001 (USDA Briefing Room, 2003).
Figure 1. Number of reported cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy worldwide (excluding UK), 1989-2002. Source:
OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health)|
The challenge confronting member countries is how to balance unique regulatory needs against the general
goal of freer trade (enjoying the benefits that come with trade liberation and globalization while simultaneously minimizing
the risks of the introduction and spread of pests, weeds, and diseases). A global SPS Agreement helps, but it is not a panacea.
The main purpose of the WTO-SPS Agreement is to facilitate trade. However, we need to make sure that the
benefits attained from trade can be sustained. Imports of harmful organisms could easily erase such gains. It must be remembered
that a country's first line of defense is prevention and that prevention is always less costly than eradication.
Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). 2001. The State of Food and Agriculture 2001. Rome, Italy:
James, S., and K. Anderson. 1998. On the Need for More Economics Assessment of Quarantine Policies. Australian
Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 42(4):425-444.
McNeely, J.A. 1999. An Introduction to Human Dimensions of Invasive Alien Species. In The Great Reshuffling:
Human Dimensions of Alien Invasive Species, edited by J.A. McNeely, pp 5-22. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN Publishers.
Roberts, D. 1998. Implementation of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures..
Agriculture in the WTO/WRS-98-44. Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
USDA Briefing Room. 2003. Invasive Species Management: Trends in Emergency Program Expenditures. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/invasivespecies/indemnities.htm .
USDA. 2003. Floriculture and Nursery Crops Situation and Outlook Yearbook. FLO2003, Market and Trade Economics
Division, Economic Research Service, USDA, Washington, D.C. (June).
World Trade Organization (WTO). 1995. Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
In Results of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations: The Legal Texts. Geneva, Switzerland: WTO.
World Trade Organization (WTO) website at http://www.wto.org .
1. This is EDIS document FE492, a publication of the Department of Food and Resource Economics,
Florida Cooperative Extension Service, UF/IFAS, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Published August 2004. Please visit
the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
2. Edward A. Evans, Assistant Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, Tropical Research
and Education Center, Homestead, FL, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, UF/IFAS, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
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A. & M. University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Larry Arrington, Dean.
This document is copyrighted by the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)
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National Research Council
Conference on Incorporating Science, Economics,
Sociology and Politics in
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards and
The WTO Agreement on
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures - Weakening Food Safety Regulation to Facilitate Trade?
Director of Legal Affairs
Center for Science in the Public Interest
January 25, 1999
Good morning. I am delighted to have this opportunity
to address you today. For those of you who are not familiar with Center for Science in the Public Interest, let me tell you
just a little bit about us. We’re a consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. We are supported by one
million subscribers to our magazine, Nutrition Action Healthletter, which reports on food safety and nutrition issues. We were formed in 1971 and over the last two decades have campaigned
for the elimination of hazardous food additives such as sulfiting agents, worked to improve meat and poultry inspection, exposed
the fat content of restaurant foods, and fought for mandatory nutrition labeling requirements.
It was actually after Congress passed mandatory nutrition
labeling legislation in 1990 that we began to open our eyes to international issues. After the nutrition labeling law took
effect, the European Union began to complain that the new law was a trade barrier. We felt that as an organization, we
better start looking into international trade issues to see if some of our biggest consumer victories in the United States
could become the victim of trade disputes.
At the same time, our organization was becoming more
international in scope. We now have 100,000 members in Canada and we have a Canadian advocacy office based on Ottawa. One
of our responses to trade attacks on mandatory nutrition labeling requirements has been to start campaigning for nutrition
labeling in other countries, and so we’re working with the Canadian Parliament to get nutrition labeling legislation
in that country. We’re also working with consumer groups in Europe and in places as far away as Singapore to achieve
the same objectives. Consumers in these areas of the world need nutrition labeling to improve their diets and protect their
health and if other countries establish nutrition labeling requirements, the U.S. law will appear less and less to be a maverick
To further our role in international issues, we have
become a recognized observer at the Codex Alimentarious Commission and have formed a new organization called the International
Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO), which is an international coalition of consumer groups that work primarily
on food safety and nutrition issues. Our charter members are the Food Commission U.K. based in London, and the Japan Offspring
Fund based in Tokyo. IACFO has filed comments with various governments on the labeling of genetically engineered foods,
issued a report on the regulation and marketing of “functional foods,” and has participated in Codex committee
Now, what I’d like to do is reflect on some of
the topics that have been discussed, particularly the process of international harmonization under the SPS agreement,
and raise the question of whether we are harmonizing “upward” or in some other direction? I’d then
like to touch on the role that science and other factors play in SPS decisions, and lastly draw some conclusions from our
experience to date.
Now, let me say first that my remarks should not be construed
in any manner as an attack on free trade. We recognize the benefits of free trade. Free trade promotes an efficient allocation
of resources. It increases the variety of goods available to consumers and it lowers the prices of those goods. And free trade
certainly encourages better world citizenship by facilitating peaceful cooperation and exchange. We recognize that we’re
in a global economy to stay and that international harmonization of regulatory requirements is necessary. But are we harmonizing
“upward” or “downward” — In what direction are we going?
To the extent that international harmonization elevates
health and safety regulations to a consistent level of excellence, consumers worldwide are well served. However, if harmonization
tends to reduce standards to some acceptable international norm, then consumer health and safety may be jeopardized regardless
of the economic benefits brought about by free trade. President Clinton has recognized this and in his speech last summer
to the World Trade Organization he has called for a “leveling up,” in his words, of consumer protection regulations
and not a “leveling down.”
But what is in fact happening? In our view, there are
numerous instances of leveling down that have occurred during the international harmonization process. We believe this is
happening for at least three different reasons.
First, under the SPS agreement, international standards
serve as a ceiling not a floor. They’re a maximum not a minimum. And there’s nothing in the SPS agreement that
requires the setting of a minimum floor that countries can exceed. It’s really just the opposite. So there’s
an implicit pressure for downward harmonization built into the SPS agreement.
Second, the SPS agreement was adopted to facilitate
trade, not to raise health and safety standards. The SPS is not a public health agreement, it is a business oriented
trade agreement that is supposed to reduce regulation and make it easier for companies to trade internationally. And,
in fact, many of the processes involved with the SPS agreement, particularly the proceedings of the Codex Alimentarious Commission,
have become forums for deregulation.
Third, public participation by consumer groups, environmental
groups and others in International proceedings is limited for obvious reasons related to resources and logistics. Hopefully
that will start to change. But at the present time, lack of consumer input is certainly one of the factors that we believe
is leading to downward harmonization. Let me give some examples.
- Codex has a proposed standard scheduled for approval this June that does not require
pasteurization of cheese. Pasteurization has been a hallmark of food safety in the United States. However, the Codex proposal
is based on practices common within the European Union. The likely adoption of this proposal at the full Codex Commission
meeting in Rome this summer will represent an example of downward harmonization.
- I mentioned earlier that mandatory nutrition labeling in the United States has been
attacked as trade barrier. Proponents of this view frequently cite the Codex standard for nutrition labeling, which only requires
disclosures of such information if the manufacturer makes a nutrition claim. Because the U.S. requirement exceeds the Codex
standard, there have been proposals that the United States permit imports of foods that have some other, lesser form of nutrition
information on the label as opposed to the full list of nutrients mandated by the U.S. Well, those of you who work in
the area of consumer education know that label disclosures have to be standardized in order to be effective. Organizations
like the American Heart Association can’t teach people to use the label if it doesn’t look the same on each product.
So allowing in imported products with some other country’s nutrition label would jeopardize the objectives of the U.S.
law and represent another example of downward harmonization.
- Codex has adopted standards for natural mineral water opposed by the United States
that allow greater levels of contaminants than permitted under Food and Drug Administration regulations. The adoption of the
Codex standard was quite a loss for the FDA which fought for years to set stringent bottled water standards in the U.S. and
now may be confronted with demands to permit the import of products that fall below those standards.
Certainly there’s a potential that international
harmonization can raise standards. As David Vogel’s book points out, we can “trade up” but whether that’s
really happening in our view is questionable. Now, I’d like to comment on two specific areas that are the subject of
this particular panel, which is focusing on veterinary issues. The first is the WTO growth hormones case and the second
is equivalency agreements concerning HAACP requirements and salmonella testing. The downward harmonization problem is illustrated
by both of these matters.
The hormone decision is obviously a very important decision
under the SPS agreement. CSPI has not campaigned against the use of hormones in the United States. We recognize that there
is a significant percentage of Americans who want to buy organic or natural beef and dislike hormones as much as the Europeans,
but in general, we have not made an issue about it. And for the sake of this discussion, let’s just assume that there
is no human health risk posed by hormone use in the United States.
Yet the European Union doesn’t want to buy our
beef, and if you speak to European consumers, you will see that this is simply not a protectionist issue. Certainly there’s
a degree of trade protectionism in the European Union position, but that position is supported by the European public for
other reasons. And, in fact, it would be difficult for the European Union to maintain such a protectionist stance if it wasn’t
the subject of popular support. That popular support for the hormone ban in Europe can be traced to various historical experiences
and cultural values. We know that there were problems in Italy with the use of hormones. The European consumer remembers that
disaster and distrusts government authorities even more in the wake of the mad cow disease fiasco. And in regards to cultural
values, there is the view that America is trying to “McDonaldize” the food supply.
So based on different historical experiences and cultural
values, most European consumers have come to fear the use of hormones in cattle. My point here is the fear is real and
simply dismissing it as trade protectionism, as many U.S. officials do, is not useful because it doesn’t get the response
that we’re looking for from the European Union. Moreover, simply trying to force our agricultural products down their
throats at the WTO is counter productive and threatens to de-stabilize the entire world trading system. The stance that the
U.S. has taken could jeopardize the whole system if the European Union decides to ignore the WTO decision.
We are concerned about the hormone decision from another
standpoint. The decision could be interpreted as limiting the right of a nation to establish a zero risk standard when there
is scientific uncertainty. And in the United States, we have the Delaney Clause to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which sets
a zero risk standard for cancer-causing food and color additives. We support the Delaney Clause, not because it’s science
based, but because it represents an insurance policy against weak regulation in times of budget crunches or competing priorities.
It forces the FDA to make certain policy decisions when the agency might be pressured by industry to look the other way and
ignore certain risks. But to argue before the WTO that it’s science based, we’d be hard pressed.
The WTO’s decision in the hormone case could have
a boomerang effect and come back to haunt us by jeopardizing consumer protection requirements like the Delaney Clause. And
again, I think that was because the SPS agreement was essentially written as a business document to increase agricultural
exports, not to protect the public health, and insufficient thought was put into it at the time it was drafted as to how
it might hurt us in certain areas that we believe are important.
Let me touch on one other area — equivalency
agreements — where the process of downward harmonization seems to be at play. I would like to discuss two points
here. First, the Codex Alimentarious Commission approved over the objections of the U.S. government guidelines for the
establishment of import/export inspection and certification systems that do not require the use of government employees to
inspect meat. In the U.S., we have long relied on government employees to inspect meat. The Codex standard approved in 1997
could be interpreted as sanctioning the use of company employees to inspect meat. It was pushed very heavily by Australia,
which has a conservative government in power, and is deregulating quite actively and favors the use of company employees,
as opposed to government employees, to conduct inspections. The Codex standard that was adopted could certainly be used to
pressure us to accept imports from countries like Australia that are increasingly relying on company employees for inspection
Second, the U.S. has new HAACP rules which require salmonella
testing by government employees. The rules took effect in January 1998 for producers that have 500 or more employees. Fifteen
countries who import meat to the United States have factories that employ 500 or more employees. These nations will agree
to do the salmonella testing but in most cases, intend to have company employees perform the test. We met with USDA officials
and they said very plainly that under the equivalency provisions of the SPS agreement, they were not telling other countries
that they have to use government employees to do the salmonella testing. And so this does set up a double standard that
I think not only consumer groups, but U.S. producers as well, should be concerned about. Certainly ask any American
business person — they would prefer not to have a government inspector looking over their backs. They’d prefer
to have one of their own employees doing the work. That will be the case overseas. It won’t be the case here. And
so we believe that equivalency agreements under the SPS are yet another example that can lead to downward harmonization.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Through equivalency
agreements, we can certainly learn how to improve food safety requirements. The U.S. does not necessarily have the strongest
requirements in every area. The U.S. food industry likes to say we have the safest food supply in the
world, but that’s no longer true across the board. So we can certainly learn from equivalency agreements if they’re
used to raise consumer protection standards. Unfortunately, they are currently being used to merely facilitate
trade at the cost of lowering consumer protection requirements. It’s an issue that concerns us very much and I can assure
you that we will be working a great deal on it.
Before concluding, I would like to briefly address another
matter that was discussed this morning which is the role of science in policy making under the SPS agreement. Obviously science
has to take a leading role, but science has its limits when it comes to risk management decisions and it’s not value
free. Risk assessments are based on assumptions, and we’ve heard that these can be cultural assumptions. Just the decision
to do a risk assessment on a particular substance, but not on another substance, is a subjective judgment that may be based
on cultural and other values. And while science has to play the leading role in informing policy decisions, other factors
certainly enter into the equation. And this happens everyday at the Codex Alimentarious Commission which plays such a leading
role under the SPS agreement. How else can one explain such close votes at Codex approving the use of
growth hormones in cattle but disapproving the use of BST in dairy cows. If Codex was proceeding strictly on a scientific
basis, these matters wouldn’t be the subject of close votes. There would be consensus decision making or perhaps lopsided
votes, but there wouldn’t be close votes. So other factors besides science are definitely coming into the decision
making process in scientific organizations like the Codex Alimentarious Commission.
And I’ll name one of those factors which is so
obvious that perhaps we don’t see it — it’s trade concerns. So we can debate the extent to which consumer
and environmental concerns should be considered along with scientific factors, but trade concerns are already being taken
into account in what are purportedly scientific decisions. And so if we are considering trade concerns at Codex, then we
should certainly be considering consumer concerns as well.
And I would agree with the speakers from earlier this
morning that cultural difference play a very key role in explaining what some may think are just protectionist attitudes or
what some may say is the misuse of science by the press or politicians. To economists, cross-cultural disputes simply look
like trade protectionism. Every time a SPS dispute arises, they say, “Well, it’s just disguised protectionism.”
It’s actually much more complicated as we are seeing. To scientists, these disputes may be attributed to consumer activists
just trying to generate publicity or politicians just trying to garner votes. Those parties certainly play a key role here,
but SPS disputes can’t simply be chalked up to protectionist attempts to grab media attention, or politics.
Lawyers may tell you that SPS disputes are essentially
legal disputes. Now I know there are a lot of scientists in the audience who may not like lawyers. In fact, the joke at the
National Institutes of Health back in Washington is that they’re starting to use lawyers for experiments because there
are some things that even rats won’t do [laughter]. Yes, the SPS agreement is a law, but even though I am a lawyer,
I won’t tell you that these disputes are only over the meaning of legal terms. Cultural differences play a very, very
big role. Let me tell you a personal story.
As my organization established relationships with consumer
organizations in Japan, we had an opportunity to travel back and forth and observe different eating customs. I was hosting
some of my Japanese colleagues in Washington, D.C., and when we decided to go to a restaurant for dinner, one of them ordered
a bowl of ravioli. And after the meal was served, the first thing they did is to start placing the pile of ravioli in rows,
lining them up in a straight line, and then putting little bits of the green herbs that were on the plate in the center of
each ravioli. And what started out looking like a plate of ravioli ended up looking amazingly like a sushi platter [laughter].
You may think that was funny, but when I was in Japan
and couldn’t find a regular restaurant, I went into a fast food type place and ordered a hamburger. Now in Japan, rice
is consumed in place of bread. The hamburger came out in a paper wrapper and as I unwrapped it, what I found was a hamburger
patty with a rice cake above and below it meant to be eaten as a sandwich. But, of course, the first thing I did was take
it apart and put the rice on one side and chop it up into a little pile. And then, of course I knew that if they could see
me, my Japanese colleagues would be laughing. So the moral of this story is that if we can’t even agree on how to serve
food and put it in our mouths, then it should be no surprise that we have difficulty agreeing on setting safety standards
for food production. Regardless of whether we are dealing with simple issues, like how to serve a meal, or complex issues,
like how to ensure the safety of the food supply, cultural differences play a profound role. No doubt, culture will continue
to play a key role in what some may regard as purely scientific or economic issues.
To close, let me say that international harmonization
can be a positive experience. It can lead to the adoption of international standards that embody the best consumer protection
policies from around the world. The potential is there. As we proceed with the global economy, we really have only one option
— to harmonize upward. Any other course of action will be seen by the public as a sellout. The challenge is there and
how we meet it will not only affect the future of food regulation, but whether public support for the world trading system
will grown or diminish.