To understand how private food safety standards have emerged as competitors with regulations adopted through more conventional public law processes, it is worth understanding how the major private standard setter – Global GAP – works and where it came from. The movement for private certification of farming practices resulted from two related consumer pressures and at least as many formal, regulatory ones. The first was from the frequent incidence of food quality and safety episodes in the 1990s and 2000s and, implicitly, the seeming failure of the international food safety and quality assurance system to safeguard against threats arising from the food supply chain. The second was from growing consumer pressures for aspects of the food system like animal welfare and workers’ rights to be respected.
Governments responded by adopting measures aimed at reducing contamination and breaches in the food supply chain. The UK, for example, passed the Food Safety Act in 1990 which increased liabilities on retailers. Coincident with pressures arising from the integrity of the food supply chain, the growing integration of the European economy highlighted the barriers that disparate private and public food safety standards were erecting across the producer-retailer food sectors.
GlobalGAP began in 1997 as EurepeGAP, an initiative by retailers belonging to the Euro-Retailer Produce Working Group. British retailers worked together with supermarkets in continental Europe to address what they argued to be consumer demand regarding product safety, environmental impact and the health, safety and welfare of workers and animals. The standards helped producers comply with Europe-wide accepted criteria for food safety, sustainable production methods, worker and animal welfare, and responsible use of water, compound feed and plant propagation materials.
Over the next ten years the process spread throughout Europe and beyond. Driven by more episodes involving compromised food safety systems, more producers and retailers subscribed to GlobalGAP audits, approval, and certification. EurepGAP changed its name to GlobalGAP in 2007. Today, GlobalGAP is by far the most influential private standard setting body in the world, certifying more than 134,000 farms in at least 116 countries.