Kosher Certification as a Model of Private Regulation

October 2, 2013

Frequent outbreaks of food-borne illness and an endless parade of new food labels that misrepresent processed foods high in fat and/or sugar as "natural," "fresh" and "healthy" highlight the shortcomings of government food regulation and the inadequacy of industry self-regulation. By contrast, kosher food certification by independent private firms is highly reliable, assuring compliance with religious standards of food production and preventing deceptive marketing, says Timothy D. Lytton, the Albert and Angela Farone Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School.

The success of kosher food certification offers a model of independent, private certification that could improve food safety and labeling and point the way toward regulatory reform in other areas such as finance and health care.

Kosher certification highlights a number of advantages of private certification over government regulation.

  • Private certification can offer greater technical expertise. Government regulators have less expertise than private certifiers in determining how the traditional laws of kosher observance apply to modern industrial food production.
  • Private certification frequently provides better inspection and monitoring coverage of regulated entities. For government regulators, inspection and monitoring strain agency budgets.
  • Private certification is typically more proactive and prospective than government regulation. Private kosher certifiers actively seek out problems before they affect consumers and set new policies to avoid trouble later.
  • Private certification can be more responsive to both regulated industries and consumers. Legislative and administrative rulemaking processes are very slow, frequently taking years to produce results.
  • Private certification is often more efficient than government regulation. Competition among certifiers provides incentives for them to cut costs in order to keep their fees as low as possible while at the same time maintaining high standards in order to protect their brand value.

Reliable private certification harnesses market demand for certification without succumbing to competitive pressures to cut corners.

Source: Timothy Lytton, "Kosher Certification as a Model of Private Regulation," Regulation, Fall 2013.

 

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