New Challenges in the European Food Regulation: Paradigm Shifts for Supporting Post-Crisis Resilience to Environmental Risks

Lara Fornabaio, Margherita Poto

Résumé

Food law is one of those systems subject to global regulation: when the first food crisis hit in the late 1990s, the response of the European Union was to build up a well-structured skeleton of regulatory tools in order to frame psychotic symptoms of a threat to our health. The crisis and the consecutive drops in consumption were the engine that powered a season of regulatory reforms. Particularly, the regulatory model is based on good administration principles, a set of actors (national and supranational) and a toolbox of global mechanisms worked as laissez-passer to the qualification of food law as a sector of the global administrative law. The ripple effects of the regulation on the economies connected to the European market witness this trespass from the regional problem-solution to a wider dimension.

After the global financial earthquake provoked by the 2008 financial crisis, a dramatic and even more pervasive wave of crisis engulfed Europe and the entire world. Since the financial crisis triggered an increase in unemployment, severe wage cuts and increased payments for loans, caused a decrease in the overall consumption of products worldwide. The decline in consumption consequently resulted in the decrease of the consumption of agro-food products, as people became more price-sensitive and were trying to reduce their expenditures. Because the overall household’s disposal income decreased, the price contradiction became more noticeable for products with higher value added. As a result, the demand for more expensive products fell and nowadays many people choose to consume basic and cheaper products, leading thus to the decrease use of agro-food products. And once again the food law system had to be re-thought. 

The decision to focus on safety and to build up a structured system around “safe food” - that worked so well as an anxiolytic response to the first (food) crisis - has to leave room to a more elaborate set of regulatory techniques, where the password shall be related to a concept of integrated sustainability, rather than on a vague concept of “consumers’ health protection. Moving from a top-down regulatory perspective to a wider scenario, where the sharing economy offers proactive solutions to step forward, seems to be necessary.

It has been observed that the sharing economy is such a puzzle for governments. However, beyond the problem of the definition itself, this type of activities raises a number of important and controversial questions in the legal, economic, as well as in the social and environmental fields. In order to provide a comprehensive picture, this study addresses the need of re-thinking at the entire subject of food and sustainability, starting from a new epistemological approach and, secondly, tries to point out how crucial it is to re-organise the good administration principles in a perspective where the participatory approach plays a pivotal role.

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