PhD defence: EU Food Health Law - Regulating the grey area between risk and safety

PhD defence

Wieke Huizing Edinger


Regulation 178/2002 (the General Food Law (GFL)) is at the basis for a distinction between food safety and non-safety issues. Whereas safety issues are defined in terms of “risk” and met with stringent regulation, “non-safety” issues are primarily dealt with by providing food information to consumers, maintaining the principle of free choice and emphasising individual consumer responsibility.

This thesis establishes where the legislator has drawn the line and what this means in terms of consumer health protection from foods that do not pose a food safety risk in a legal sense, but which could indeed threaten human health from, e.g., a nutritional point of view. The growing prevalence of obesity and non-communicable diseases are examples of contemporary challenges which are difficult to fit into the rather narrow concept of food safety in the GFL.

The analysis concludes that EU food law does not address this grey area between risk and safety directly. As a result, the ultimate responsibility for non-safety health threats remains with consumers, who are expected to protect their own health and well-being by making informed and rational food choices on the basis of available food information. Whereas, from a risk management perspective, it appears both reasonable and efficient to hold consumers responsible for the health consequences of consumptive behaviour that is regardless of information provided on food labels or otherwise, in regard of grey area foods, such division of responsibilities can lead to compromising situations for weaker, gullible consumers.

The question arises whether the EU legislator could step in and regulate grey area foods. Although the EU Treaty does not provide for a specific legal basis to adopt “food health law” and explicitly prohibits the harmonisation of public health legislation, there appears to be room for the adoption of harmonising measures in order to facilitate the protection of consumer health at the EU level.


Helle Tegner Anker, Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Bernd van der Meulen, Professor, Law and Governance Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands

Assesment Committee

Karsten Klint Jensen, Associate Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Ines Härtel, Professor, Europa-universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), Germany

Margaret Rosso Grossman, Professor Emerita, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Illinois, USA

If you are interested in a full copy of the thesis, you can contact the PhD student or one of the supervisors.