Oversight of Private Food Safety Auditing in the U.S.: A Hybrid Approach to Auditor Conflict of Interest
in Hybridization of Food Governance: Trends, Types and Results (Edward Elgar Publishing 2017)
28 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2017 Last revised: 21 Mar 2018
Date Written: May 29, 2017
Private food safety auditing is a large and rapidly growing global industry. Although no one has comprehensive data on the size of the industry, there are indications that it operates on a scale comparable to that of government food safety regulation. This chapter focuses on one particular problem that undermines public confidence in private food safety auditing: the conflict of interest that arises when auditors are paid by the entities that they audit. Industry insiders and outside observers believe this conflict of interest to be a significant concern that merits attention, and various institutional actors have developed oversight mechanisms to address it. Our focus is on the institutional design of oversight – organizational structures, administrative routines and professional norms.
Oversight of food safety auditing exemplifies the concept of hybridization analysed in the introduction to this volume. The system of oversight we survey is characterized by the interplay of public and private actors applying a variety of regulatory instruments developed within national, international and transnational institutions. We present an inventory of regulatory instruments that identifies the actors involved, their motivations and the character of their interactions. Although much of what we describe applies globally, our examples of tort litigation and government recognition focus on particular features of US law, so we have limited the scope of our claims to food safety auditing in the United States.
Oversight of private auditing can be provided by a variety of sources, and it can take different forms. We use the term ‘oversight’ in a very broad sense to cover any ongoing effort to ensure or improve quality. This includes promulgating norms and encouraging administrative routines as well as monitoring performance and imposing sanctions. These forms of oversight can come from personnel within organizations (such as trainers and managers), from external private sources (such as audit firms and trade associations) or from the government (such as agencies and courts). Oversight mechanisms thus involve different combinations of institutional actors and regulatory techniques, each of which has comparative strengths and weaknesses. They may provide alternatives to each other or coexist; they may be redundant or complementary. The effectiveness of oversight may depend upon an ultimate overseer, or it may depend upon a network of overseers and oversight mechanisms.
Keywords: food safety, regulatory governance, auditing, regulatory compliance
JEL Classification: I10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation