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Introduction to Codex

What is Codex Alimentarius

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was established in 1961-1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to implement their Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme.  Codex Alimentarius is Latin for ‘code’ and ‘food’, simply translated it means ‘food code’.  It is a 14-volume collection of internationally adopted Food Standards, Codes of Practice, Guidelines and Recommendations. 

The main aims of Codex Alimentarius are to:

  • Protect the health of consumers
  • Ensure fair practices in food trade
  • Promote coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non governmental organizations. 

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, frequently referred to simply as “Codex”, today comprises of 185 member countries and one member organisation (EU) and 208 observers comprising United Nations Organisations, International Scientific Organisations, Consumer Organisations, Food Industry and Trade, who attend sessions as observers. 

 

Importance of Codex

Codex has become the global food standards reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies and the international food trade.  It has an influence on the thinking of food producers and processors as well as on the awareness of the end users – the consumers.  Its influence extends to every continent, and its contribution to the protection of public health and fair practices in the food trade is immeasurable. 

While Codex standards and related texts are non-mandatory in nature, they have since 1995 become international benchmarks for food safety under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement).  The SPS Agreement considers that WTO members applying Codex standards meet their obligations under this Agreement.  This means that Codex standards are considered scientifically justified and are accepted as the benchmarks against which national measures and regulations are evaluated. Although not specifically referenced, the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) also uses Codex standards as the international benchmark.   As such, Codex standards have become the benchmarks against which national food measures and regulations are evaluated within the legal parameters of the WTO Agreements. 

The Codex Alimentarius Commission works closely with other standards-setting bodies mentioned in the SPS Agreement – the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).  In recent times there has been increased collaboration with the standard setting activities of the OIE and Codex in relation to animal production food safety, in recognition of the importance of the farm to fork approach from primary producer to the consumer for effective management of food safety.   

How does CODEX Operate

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) which meets annually, alternating between Rome and Geneva, is assisted by an Executive Committee and has the use of a small Secretariat based at the FAO headquarters in Rome.  It has a relatively simple structure operating through a number of specialised committees and task forces and is supported by 3 standing expert scientific bodies convened under the auspices of FAO and WHO to generate food data and provide risk-assessment type advice: 

Codex Committees and Task Forces  

CODEX Alimentarius Commission Organisation Chart

 

The Codex system allows a unique opportunity for all countries to join the international community in formulating and harmonizing food standards and ensuring their global implementation.  Codex standards are elaborated/revised by the relevant codex committee using an eight-step procedure, which normally involves the draft text being reviewed twice by the CAC and twice by member countries before it is finally adopted or accelerated to a five-step procedure from proposal to adoption.   

Codex 8 – Step Procedure

Step 1: The Commission decides to elaborate a standard and assigns the work to a committee. A decision to elaborate a standard may also be taken by a committee.

Step 2: The Secretariat arranges preparation of a proposed draft standard.

Step 3: The proposed draft standard is sent to governments and international organizations for comment.

Step 4: The Secretariat forwards comments to the committee.

Step 5: The proposed draft standard is sent to the Commission through the Secretariat for adoption as a draft standard.

Step 6: The draft standard is sent to governments and international organizations for comment.

Step 7: The Secretariat forwards comments to the committee.

Step 8: The draft standard is submitted to the Commission through the Secretariat for adoption as a Codex standard.

 

Codex 5 – Step Accelerated Procedure

Step 1: The Commission decides to elaborate a standard on the basis of consensus or a two-thirds majority of votes cast using the accelerated procedure and assigns the work to a committee.

Step 2: The Secretariat arranges preparation of a proposed draft standard.

Step 3: The proposed draft standard is sent to governments and international organizations for comment. When standards are subject to the accelerated procedure, Members of the Commission and the interested international organizations are notified.

Step 4: The Codex Secretariat forwards comments to the committee for consideration and amendments to the proposed draft standard.

Step 5: The proposed draft standard subject to the accelerated elaboration procedures is sent to the Commission through the Secretariat, along with any written proposals from Members and interested international organizations, for adoption as a Codex standard.

Codex Standards are adopted by consensus.  Voting is rare, and only occurs if efforts to reach consensus have failed. 

European Union Membership of Codex

The 27 Member States of the European Union are all members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. In 2003, the European Community also became a full member of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and shares the competence with its Member States on the basis of the level of harmonisation of the relevant legislation. Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, the European Union replaced the European Community.

Competence is assigned as follows:

The European Union has exclusive competence for matters on which the rules have already been harmonised, either fully or to a large extent, at Community level. In such cases, the Commission speaks and votes in the name of the Community, although Member States have the right to speak to support and develop the Community position and to react to contributions from other countries;The Member States have exclusive competence for all organisational matters (for example, legal or budgetary questions) and for procedural matters (for example, the election of chairpersons, the adoption of agendas and the approval of minutes);Competence is shared where rules have been only partially harmonised: the vote is exercised either by the Member States or the Community, depending on the degree of harmonisation achieved. In such cases, the Presidency and the Commission put forward the common position. Member States may also speak in order to support and/or develop the Community position and to react to contributions.

Before each Codex meeting, EU coordination takes place in Brussels at the Council Working Party level to prepare the common EU position  and decide on division of competence as between Member States, EU and mixed competence.

Before each Codex meeting, an annotated agenda indicating the breakdown of competence and voting rights is submitted to the Codex Secretariat for distribution among all participants at the Codex meeting.

In addition, the Member States and the Commission have the right to participate in the Codex working groups and drafting committees and express their opinions there. Member State and Commission representatives endeavour to reach a common position and defend this during discussions in the working groups and drafting committees. 

The Health and Consumer Directorate-General (SANCO) acts as the European Union Codex Contact Point.

 

Representation at Codex Sessions

Representation at Codex sessions is on a member country basis with delegations usually comprised of government officials. Numerous accredited international government and non-government organisations also participate as observers.