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Modus operandi of Codex Alimentarius (the way codex operates)

Food standards under debate. The Codex Alimentarius Commission meets every other year in either Rome or Geneva

When the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization got together in 1962 to implement the Joint FAD/WHO Food Standards Programme, the two organizations set up the Codex Alimentarius Commission, consisting of the nations belonging to FAO or WHO that wish to participate in the Codex programme.

The Commission meets every other year, alternating between Rome, Italy, and Geneva, Switzerland, and is supported by staff from FAO and WHO. The Secretariat is located in Rome in the Food Quality and Standards Service of FAO's Food Policy and Nutrition Division. The WHO focal point is the Food Safety Unit of WHO's Division of Food and Nutrition in Geneva.

An Executive Committee of the Commission is responsible for making recommendations about the general direction of the Commission's work. Regional coordinating committees see that the work is responsive to regional interests and to developing countries. The Executive Committee, which meets between Commission sessions, acts as the executive organ of the Commission and may make decisions for the Commission subject to approval at the next Commission session.

The Executive Committee is geographically balanced, with no two members elected from the same country. Terms and re-election are limited so that the chairman and three vice chairmen may hold their offices for no more than four years.

The Commission has set up 28 general subject and commodity committees. These are the groups that draft standards and make recommendations to the Commission. The Commission itself determines the need for a standard and arranges for it to be drafted. That begins an eight-step procedure in which the standards - including such items as maximum residue levels (MRLs), codes of practice and guidelines - are reviewed twice by the Commission and twice by governments and other interested parties, including food manufacturers, traders and consumer advocates, before adoption.

Hillside terracing for farming in Peru

After a standard is published, the Codex Secretariat periodically provides a list of the countries that have accepted it so that exporters know where they can ship their products that conform to Codex.

Of the 28 subsidiary bodies within Codex, the seven so-called general subject committees are, as might be expected, the most far-reaching. These seven committees work closely with scientific bodies in developing the standards and recommendations. The committees and their host countries are:

• Food Labelling (Canada)
• Food Additives and Contaminants (The Netherlands)
• Food Hygiene (United States)
• Pesticide Residues (The Netherlands)
• Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Foods (United States)
• Methods of Analysis and Sampling (Hungary)
• Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (Australia)

In addition, a General Principles Committee (France) has set the procedures and rules for Codex Alimentarius. Although the rules and procedures were made final in 1969, small changes have been introduced over the years to make sure that they are always up-to-date.

Eighteen commodity committees have operated from time to time. Six are still active, while 11 have been adjourned without setting new meeting dates, and one has been dissolved. Those that are still active and their host countries are:

• Fish and Fishery Products (Norway)
• Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (Germany)
• Fats and Oils (United Kingdom)
• Milk and Milk Products (New Zealand)
• Cereals, Pulses and Legumes (United States)
• Tropical Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (Mexico)

Adjourned are committees on processed fruits and vegetables, cocoa products and chocolate, processed meat and poultry products, meat hygiene, fruit juices, sugars, soups and broths, edible ices, vegetable proteins, natural mineral waters and quick frozen foods.

The host countries fund the committees, while FAO and WHO share the overall costs of the Codex programme, with FAO providing about 80 percent of the funds.

Also active in the Commission's work are representatives of food industry associations, consumer groups and international scientific and food technology organizations.

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