Navigating global differences in food regulation

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Codex alimentarius

Navigating global differences in food regulation
The EU's work to help countries benchmark and harmonise regulation is worth its weight in gold, says regulatory attorney Kevin Kenny, but it's still a confusing landscape for food manufacturers.

”The regulatory piece is just one piece of what a processor has to do but it’s a challenging one," ​said Kevin Kenny, a regulatory attorney and co-founder of Decernis, who will speak at FiE in Paris next week on how to overcome regulatory challenges in a global market.

Decernis has a database comprising 70,000 food and beverage regulations for additives, standards and contaminants across 170 countries in 40 languages. But although Kenny has made a career out of helping governments and manufacturers comply with a global mosaic of piecemeal regulations on food additives, spending up to eight months of the year on the road doing so, he is a proponent of regulatory harmonisation.

“When you’ve got multiple different regulations it has an impact on both cost and safety and creates non-tariff trade barriers so from an industry perspective it’s a huge win to have harmonised regulation. The key takeaway message is, the reason we do this is safety but in doing so it’s also [more] cost-effective. There is a clear benefit to manufacturers.”

While a global organisation like Codex Alimentarius, which defines voluntary international food standards that are often used as the basis for national legislation, is undoubtedly useful, Kenny said it also has more unregulated food additives than it does regulated, and acts at a pace he called “glacial and slow-moving”​.

In the long-run harmonisation would mean companies could work faster and more efficiently – and the benefits would be especially felt by small and medium-sized businesses that lack the resources to ensure compliance across a patchwork of different regulatory landscapes.

If a small Bulgarian company wanted to export to Germany, for instance, it would not have to hire a German-speaker to translate the regulation.

Kenny believes the EU has the most advanced and sophisticated regulation in the world with 28 countries following one regulation that is easily accessible and translated into 28 languages. But its scope actually extends beyond its own borders as countries such as Turkey and Israel follow it closely, and the EU was also active in encouraging harmonisation activities in emerging markets, by participating in and sponsoring conferences on the issue to “spread the EU way”.

“What the EU is doing with regard to helping countries benchmark and harmonise regulation is worth its weight in gold,” ​Kenny said.

So if the EU standards are the golden standards, should a company wanting to maximise its export opportunities and produce safe, compliant products make them compliant with EU law?

“It’s not quite as simple as following the EU example although that is certainly a step in the right direction. [But] a company would definitely be better off following Codex as these are the norms in 90 countries, the EU is just 28," ​said Kenny.

Meanwhile ASEAN in south-east Asia, Mercosur in Latin America, Caricom in the Caribbean or the Eurasian Economic Union which includes Russia, Armenia and Kazakhstan are working towards their own levels of harmonisation. 

Related topics: Policy

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