Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Food Studies


Anne C. Bellows


Food safety, human rights to adequate food, Indonesia, International food trade, SPS, WTO

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


States have the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the right of their people to adequate food, including safe and nutritious food. The obligation to fulfil (facilitate) means states must proactively engage in activities intended to strengthen people’s access to safe food. A lack of resources and capacities can hamper a state’s capacity to develop a proper scientific justification as the basis to establish food safety regulations as mandated by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and thus can create inequality in public health protection between developed and developing countries. This thesis aims to present a case study of inequalities in international food trade vis-à-vis food safety standards and introduces how to tackle the issue by using a human rights-based approach (HRBA) to food safety and the concepts of self-determination, non-discrimination, and equality in food sovereignty.

Several human rights instruments especially the right to adequate food and nutrition will be applied to denounce the perception that “free trade” rules should prevail over public health protection. A secondary data analysis of maximum residue limits (MRLs) comparing six commodities (wheat, soybean, rice, apples, garlic, and peanuts) was created to display quantitively the disparity of food safety standards between WTO members, particularly between nineteen developed, developing, and least-develop countries. Semi-structured interviews were conducted from April to June 2018 to gain insights and perspectives from 14 respondents from related stakeholders: public officials, civil society organizations (CSOs), importers, and researchers.

The findings from secondary data analysis indicate that a disparity in food safety standards, particularly in MRL standards between the WTO members, indeed exists. All developed countries reviewed establish their own national MRLs and add an extra layer of protection, the default MRL/positive list. Some developing countries have been developing a multi-step deferral policy, i.e., a hybrid process of adopting other international standards such as the Codex or the EU MRLs, along with their national standard, as well as adopting a default MRL. A multi-step deferral policy may be a strategy for lower-income countries to improve their food safety control on pesticide residues.

Furthermore, interview findings reveal structural conditions in international trade rules that, in the case of Indonesia, prevent the realization of the human right to food and food sovereignty for its people. Several recommendations to tackle the issues are proposed, as follows: increasing awareness and education of the right to food for both the state as duty-bearer and the communities; expanding the knowledge of CSOs and their involvement as CSOs in the area of food safety and global trade issues; increasing rights holders’ participation and sovereignty in food-related policy; evolving the human right to food safety at the international level by addressing discrimination and lack of equity in international trade rules concerning food safety; democratizing local and national food governance through increased civil society participation including by traditional food producers; centralizing food safety governance at the national level to maximize food safety and to some extent, lowering subsidiarity to reduce market inefficiency; and conducting food law reform in Indonesia.

Keywords: WTO; SPS; food safety; international trade; human rights; human right to adequate food; food sovereignty; Indonesia; inequality.


Open Access



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.