Authority and legitimacy in governing global food chains

Oosterveer, P.J.M.


As more food is traded across borders, food regulation is profoundly transforming as well. Conventionally this regulation was based on sovereign nation-states deciding how to secure their economy and feed their population. But nowadays, national authorities can no longer assume effective control over food because the volumes traded have increased dramatically while the structures of production and consumption constitute swiftly changing transnational networks. The emergence of unfamiliar hazards, such as BSE and Avian Influenza H5N1, leading to growing food safety worries among consumers, however, create an intense pressure to control food under the conditions of globalization. It is unlikely that existing multilateral structures, such as the WTO and the Codex Alimentarius, can adequately address present-day food concerns because they necessarily build on existing state structures and capacities. It is therefore not surprising that innovative governance arrangements multiply, notably via private standards and labelling initiatives. However, the involvement of private actors in food governance generates a debate about their authority and legitimacy.