Private agri-food industry expresses its views on public and private standards

Paris 24 May 2010 – The OIE gave an open forum to representatives from the agri-food private sector to speak in front of the World Assembly of OIE national Delegates on public and private commercial standards in international trade of animals and animal products. 

OIE Director General, Dr Vallat said: “The OIE and its partners will continue the dialogue with agri-food industry and private standard-setting bodies to avoid potential conflict between public and private standards and to explore the possibilities for collaboration and find complementarities of action – except on sanitary issues – to the benefit of all developing and developed countries and both world producers and consumers.”

Over the past two decades world consumers have become increasingly concerned about systems of production as well as aspects of food safety and animal welfare, leading food system stakeholders to develop private standards in order to try to meet these consumer requirements and spending patterns.

An OIE group of experts who dealt with the topic in 2009 analysed the concerns most frequently caused by private standards in international trade of animals and animal products. They pointed the lack of scientific justification, transparency and democracy in these private standard setting and certification schemes. The extra cost of compliance and certification have also been indicated as being among the main negative effects of private standards on small producers, particularly from developing countries.

Experts stated that conversely for producers able to meet their requirements, private standards can sometimes result in a competitive advantage and an access to international markets. 

Speaking at the 78 th General Session, Michael Robach, Vice President of Corporate Food Safety and Regulatory Affairs at Cargill and previous chairman of the NGO SSAFE (Safe Supply of Affordable Food Everywhere, Inc.) presented the different ways in which, public and private standards could co-exist and even complement each other. “The food industry recognizes the critical importance of the work undertaken by the OIE, and the Codex Alimentarius and has started to take steps which better align standard and private certification schemes with existing public standards”, he said. 

He underlined one of the issues concerning the development of private standards was their profusion, the related demand by food system stakeholders for private certification, which itself led to duplication of efforts and the proliferation of auditing schemes possibly detrimental to public certification.

The OIE World Assembly of Delegates agreed and felt there was a potential for complementarities in the area of compliance with public and private standards and agreed future cooperation and harmonisation were targets for the OIE, both public and private standard-setting bodies and industry representatives working at a global level. 

The Assembly agreed too that it was important to make a clear distinction between complementarities of public and private standards in the field of sanitary aspects and in the field of animal welfare. 

The issue of private standards in international trade of animals and animal products was first raised at the 76 th OIE General Session (2008) with an insight on the “Implication of private standards in international trade of animals and animal products” provided by Representatives of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and of the European Union DG-Sanco. 

Public food system-related standards elaborated by Codex Alimentarius, International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) are officially recognized by the WTO Sanitary and PhytoSanitary Agreement. 

Food system stakeholders include farm input suppliers, farm producers, primary collection and processing facilities, food ingredient and packaging manufacturers, food manufacturing firms, distributors, importers, exporters, retailers, food service and restaurant operators, and all consumers.

Implications of private standards in international trade of animals and animal products