The Unit on International Law has concerned itself, in the first instance, with the classification of the variety of international legal sources as regards food safety, starting with the essential right to health, on which the same right to safe food is based, identified as those tools of a universal nature from which it is possible to extract principles of customary law. Of these, the most prominent are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 25) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Articles 11 and 12 – the right to food and the right to health), the content and significance of which was reiterated in greater detail by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights through General Comment No. 12 (the right to adequate food) and General Comment No. 14 (the right to the highest standard of health). From these it is possible to deduce that nourishment that is qualitatively and quantitatively appropriate is achieved in the presence of “an availability of food, in sufficient quantities and quality to satisfy physiological needs, that is devoid of harmful substances and is acceptable within every culture” of which consumers of all ages are a part. The unit has dedicated one specific section to the categories of consumers that are, by definition, “weak”. Of these, women and children in particular tend to stand out the most.
Consequently, the tools used to implement the said right to food safety were selected, making it then possible to proceed with the systematic cataloguing of international agreements, technical standards and numerous and important statements of non-binding principles (so-called sources of soft law), often supplemental to those actual precepts (contrariwise defined hard law). Amongst the international conventions referred to, those drawn up under the umbrella of the WTO tend take on a particular role: the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).
Finally, with the intention of completing the general picture of the way in which agri-food market currently operate, the unit from Pavia is analysing the role of standards and private certification systems. Said tools, adopted voluntarily by those operating in the food sector, operate alongside public regulation. They can, on the one hand, strengthen their effects but on the other, become unfair non-tariff barriers to trade by putting forward standards that are even more stringent than those that are legally binding. The same methods of analysis were adopted in an attempt to rebuild, within international law (general and conventional) a fundamental right to safe drinking water for use with foods, which is a basic requirement in any type of food preparation.