Regulating sustainable food standards in the EU and WTO: perspectives from law and consumer science
PhD student: Mrs Dr E.L. van der Zee
Promotor: B.J.M. van der Meulen
Duration: 1/10/2012 - 30/9/2017
PhD defence: Wageningen, 7/3/2018
Western governments seem to consider voluntary business-to-consumer sustainability labels as instrumental to the objective of promoting sustainable consumption. This fits within a shift in governance that has taken place from traditional command and control regulatory instruments used by classical government institutions to market-based regulatory instruments used by e.g. NGOs, industry associations, and public-private partnerships. Sustainability labels have proven very popular to provide sustainability-related information to consumers. Since the 1980s there has been a rise of sustainability labels on the consumer market. For example, there are around 170 different sustainability labels being used in The Netherlands today. These labels often develop specific voluntary sustainability standards which a product, organisation, or product process must meet. Such standards are transnational regulatory systems that provide guarantees on sustainability issues (such as animal welfare, fair trade, organic) beyond those required by state regulation. When producers comply with the set standards they are often allowed to communicate this to consumers through labelling (either the product may be produced under a specific brand or a mark may be added onto the product label). Sustainability standards, even those set and confirmed without regulatory state authority, are typically involved with traditional government tasks such as the process of rulemaking, standard setting, monitoring, compliance and enforcement. The growing predominance of such voluntary sustainability standards in governing sustainable food markets raises challenges within WTO law and competition law. It remains unclear how sustainability standards fit within the current international and European legal system. The objective of this project is to provide a legal framework, based on insights from legal and consumer science, that clarifies how WTO law and EU competition law should respond to the growing regulatory use of voluntary sustainability standards. To meet this objective, first, the regulatory structure underlying sustainability standards will be examined. Secondly, based on this structure, it will be assessed how and to what extent sustainability standards fit in the current legal system, focusing on WTO law and EU competition law. Based on how and to what extent sustainability standards fit in the current legal system it will be analysed, based on insights from legal and consumer science, how WTO law and EU competition law should respond to the growing regulatory use of sustainability standards.