Assessing the socio-economic dimension of food quality and safety regulations: research challenges and recent advances


Daniel Spichtinger, RTD Services, Lazarettgasse 3/4, A-1090, Vienna, Austria.


Introduction Monitoring and Quality Assurance (MoniQA) is a multidisciplinary network of experts aiming at harmonizing worldwide food quality, safety monitoring and control strategies, dealing with socio-economic impact assessment and working for better regulations (Poms et al., 2009).

Objectives MoniQA provides support for a systematic assessment of the socio-economic effects of new European food quality and safety regulations. Impact is evaluated in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and consistency of application, and with respect to different stakeholders (consumers, industry, regulatory bodies, etc.). As a result, socio-economic impact assessment will enhance the effectiveness and the efficiency of new food quality and safety regulations.

Methods Following the European guidelines for regulatory impact assessment, MoniQA has developed a generic Evaluation Framework, dealing with food safety challenges, such as the costs and benefits of strict control measures targeting the agriculture and food industry, the implications of imposing controls independently on export markets, the costs and benefits of extensive training programmes, and the risks associated with lowering standards and relaxing controls. In parallel, MoniQA is developing a decision support system, which compares the effectiveness of policy implementation at the level of the individual enterprise (micro level) with the success of policies within and across countries (macro level). As there are so many stakeholders (e.g. small versus large enterprises, differences in risk profiles and management structures, sectors and geographic location, etc.), this tool is expected to allow an understanding of the different scenarios and facilitate policy-making at various levels (e.g. regional, national, European Union, etc.). An Evaluation Toolbox, based on the complementarities of the Evaluation Framework and the decision support system, will provide information about: data availability, gaps and quantitative and qualitative collection procedures; a systematic classification of impacts; validated results from the case studies; and up-to-date guidelines on evaluation strategies.

Results The expected output of our overall research work is a toolbox (intended as a set of procedures) that can be used by policy makers better to assess the potential impacts of future food quality and safety regulations. This toolbox will provide methodological instruments for qualitative and quantitative assessment in the important policy area of food quality and safety.

Conclusion The co-operation being fostered among food scientists and socio-economic scientists within the MoniQA network is essential for applying the procedures for impact assessment that are being explored in the socio-economic research. This is in line with the MoniQA objective to achieve a sustainable network of food quality and safety experts in the long term.