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Food quality assurance and certification

There is growing concern about food quality and safety worldwide. In industrialized countries, governments have enacted various protective regulations to control food imports. In parallel, private companies have developed a plethora of standards and codes of practices that have passed down the supply chain to suppliers in developing countries. Food quality is therefore seen as a prerequisite for success in an ever more competitive agri-food market and is becoming a major source of competitive advantage.

Food quality and safety include many factors and have many definitions, such as: taste, aroma, colour, texture, functionality, health, cost, environment, decent work, equity, tradition and culture. Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) are all tools for assuring product quality, and in some countries they have been made compulsory by law. Private standards, for example, Global GAP, are required for exporting products to certain retailers in certain markets. Organic standards and procedures, initiated by civil society, have become part of the legal and institutional framework of many countries. There are also voluntary systems for certifying quality assurance programmes, for example the International Standards Organization (ISO) standards.

Voluntary standards and schemes for specific quality products

Worldwide, there are increasing social expectations and consumer demand for food and agricultural products that bear a specific quality label such as organic, fair-trade or geographical indications. These products possess specific characteristics that may be linked to composition, production method or marketing, which are value-adding and allow for product differentiation on markets.

This context has led to a growing number of voluntary standards and regulatory instruments associated with such products, which are developed around four main thrusts: (i) preservation of biodiversity and the environment; (ii) social welfare and equity; (iii) traditions or geographical origin of products; and (iv) nutritional and functional food. The development of these standards has strongly impacted internal and international markets and can be an opportunity for rural development by providing better income and contribute to the conservation of local resources and encouraging social equity. However, the proliferation of schemes for such products has been met with various degrees of capability in developing countries. 

Therefore, FAO has initiated an informal Interdepartmental Working Group (IDWG) on voluntary standards and schemes for specific quality food and agricultural products as a response to the rapid development of such products and the need to share information and coordinate within FAO.

The IDWG seeks to support FAO policy and strategy in the area of voluntary standards and schemes for specific quality products and to recommend mechanisms to address member countries’ needs in this field. The first step towards achieving this is to develop a common position on the matter. After much reflection, the Group has prepared the present paper that expresses the approach and views of FAO on such products and explores the opportunities and challenges that they pose.

Video - Current FAO activities on sustainability standards

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