Is Science Really the Only Thing that Counts? An Evaluation of the SPS Agreement’s Expectations of Science in the Context of EU Food Policy

  • Chris DownesEmail author
Part of the Studies in European Economic Law and Regulation book series (SEELR, volume 2)


A recurrent criticism of the SPS Agreement and related jurisprudence has been the importance accorded to scientific evidence in determining the compliance of sanitary measures with WTO rules. A reliance on technical risk assessments to determine the necessity of a Member’s SPS measure could prohibit policies that respond to legitimate public concerns over certain types of food. This chapter evaluates whether the Agreement proffers an approach to science which excludes social value judgements in setting SPS measures and assesses the extent to which this may constrain domestic regulators. It first analyses whether the Agreement necessitates a particular approach—technical or socio-cultural—to food risk. It suggests that the Agreement’s demands in this respect are more ambiguous than sometimes contended, but acknowledges notable limitations in the permitted interpretation of scientific evidence. The chapter then explains, using a diagrammatic characterisation of risk management scenarios, why the tensions identified may have limited implications for domestic regulators. It anticipates SPS rules to be strained only where international consensus on the technical safety of a given food coincides with a sharp divergence on social-value judgements. The chapter finally scrutinises this sensitive area of policy making with reference to a range of EU policies. It finds that, in practice, the EU has adopted measures that reflect citizens’ concerns in spite of potential challenge under the SPS Agreement. The chapter concludes that criticism of the SPS approach to science and proposed remedies should be rethought in light of this assessment.


World Trade Organisation European Food Safety Authority Food Irradiation World Trade Organisation Dispute Appellate Body 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European Consulting Company (ECCO)BrusselsBelgium

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