Food is food?

By Sun Juanjuan

With this idea that « food is food », the big food companies in the U.S.A.are trying to identify all the foods by ignoring where or how they are produced[1]. In this case, as long as food is edible, there is no need to tag the labels with information such as the place of origin, or whether it is GM free or not. As a result, in the side of competition, for example, the foods from those big food companies can compete equally with the locally produced food. And in the side of regulation, genetically modified food can access the market without pre-authorization just as conventional food. Though certain common recognitions have been reached on food, such as the definition given by the Codex Alimentarius Commission[2] of food[3] for regulation or food safety standards for food circulation, this idea is still arguable since food products can be different from one to another and food is not only food as well.

The first idea is that food products can be different from one to another. Food products can be different depending on what they contain, where they are produced or how they are produced. For example, a common type of rice is different from a nutrient-fortified type of rice with regard to nutrition. Likewise, French wine is different from Chinese wine from the perspective of quality, and the genetically modified crops are not the same food as organic crops when it comes to food safety. Therefore, the importance of this distinction is not only to ensure fair competition since the value of those food products is different, which can give rise to comparative advantages during the competition, but also to require appropriate regulation since the risk assessment should be applied to ensure safety either of the substance which may be added into food or the technology which is newly developed and applied to produce food.

Besides, consumers may have different preferences as to which food they want to eat, so they have to be able to make an informed choice. For instance, some may prefer local food while some others may want famous branded products from big food companies. Some may want to buy conventional food rather than GM food. In this sense, the so called « food is food » doctrine which tries to get rid of labeling for certain information such as how food is produced would deprive the consumers of a free and informed choice (since the edible nature of the product is not necessarily the only criteria for consumers in buying certain type of food).

Therefore, in order to ensure food safety, it is very important that regulation includes pre-authorizations and labeling of certain products. However, with the so called « food is food” approach, both of them can be ignored since the Government puts the industrial interest ahead of safety considerations.

The second idea is that food is not only food. In addition to being just a commodity from the perspective of food business, food can be a matter of many possibilities. For example, food can be used as a weapon. As explained in the book Seeds of Destruction written by F William Engdahl, a country that loses its own capability of food supply can become controlled by others since it is common that when you “control the food […] you control the people”. Food can also be a matter of politics. As explained in the book Food Politics written by Marion Nestle, big food companies can lobby the Government for favored regulation. Or food can be a matter of national identification. In the book We Are What We Eat written by Donna R. Gabaccia, it is explained that food choices reflect the eater’s identity since food is a cultural practice for people, who usually are reluctant to change.

In this case, the purpose of food regulation can be multiple: it can be for the realization of food security, for the assurance of food safety or for the preservation of food culture.

With these two arguments, the answer to the idea that food is food is quite clear. Certainly, food is quite important to the economic development. However, it does not mean that the economic consideration can override other political, social and cultural considerations or even replace other considerations. All these aspects should be considered together in the development of the food sector in order to provide adequate food to people.


[1] Neil D. Hamilton. (2005). Food democracy II: revolution or restoration, Journal of Food Law and Policy 13, pp. 34-35.

[3] According to the definition established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, food means any substance, whether processed, semi-processed or raw, which is intended for human consumption, and includes drink, chewing gum and any substance which has been used in the manufacture, preparation or treatment of “food” but does not include cosmetics or tobacco or substances used only as drugs.  See the Procedural Manual of CAC, nineteenth edition, p. 18.


A propos sunjuanjuan

Doctorante - Programme Lascaux
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Un commentaire pour Food is food?

  1. François Collart Dutilleul dit :

    C’est très juste et il est très utile de le rappeler. Nous devons en effet faire la différence entre l’alimentation et les aliments car ce ne sont pas les mêmes questions (notamment juridiques) qui sont en cause. « Food is food » appelle plutôt des questions de la sécurité sanitaire, droit de la concurrence et de la consommation.


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