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The Codex Alimentarius Commission was born of necessity. Its carefully crafted Statutes and Rules of Procedure ensure that it pursues its clearly defined objectives in a disciplined, dispassionate and scientific way.

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Codex Alimentarius Commision
30 June - 7July

Commission du Codex Alimentarius
30 juin - 7 juillet

Comisión del Codex Alimentarius

30 de junio - 7 de julio

FAO/WHO 2003


The Eleventh Session of the FAO Conference in 1961 and the Sixteenth World Health Assembly in 1963 both passed resolutions to establish the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The two bodies also adopted the Statutes and Rules of Procedure for the Commission.

The Statutes provide the legal basis for the Commission’s work and formally reflect the concepts behind and reasons for its establishment. Article 1 of the Statutes provides the Commission with its purposes, terms of reference and objectives. Article 2 defines eligibility for membership of the Commission, which is open to all Member Nations and Associate Members of FAO and WHO. In 2005, membership comprised 171 countries, representing 98 percent of the world’s population. The European Community is a Member Organization.

The Rules of Procedure of the Codex Alimentarius Commission describe and formalize working procedures appropriate to an intergovernmental body. They provide for:

Representation. The Commission is truly an international body. Since it was formed, there have been chairpersons from Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Vice-chairpersons have been drawn from Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Ghana, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Senegal, the Sudan, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United Republic of Tanzania and the United States of America.

Statutes of the Codex Alimentarius Commission


The Codex Alimentarius Commission shall... be responsible for making proposals to, and shall be consulted by, the Directors-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on all matters pertaining to the implementation of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, the purpose of which is:

(a) protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair practices in the food trade;

(b) promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations;

(c) determining priorities and initiating and guiding the preparation of draft standards through and with the aid of appropriate organizations;

(d) finalizing standards elaborated under (c) above and, after acceptance by governments, publishing them in a Codex Alimentarius either as regional or worldwide standards, together with international standards already finalized by other bodies under (b) above, wherever this is practicable;

(e) amending published standards, after appropriate survey in the light of developments.

The purposes or objectives embraced by Article 1 resulted from a long process of fashioning and refining. Based on a deep insight into and understanding of events that led to the Commission’s establishment, they encapsulate the intentions of the Commission’s founders.

Regional representatives to the Commission have been provided by the Governments of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Cuba, the former Czechoslovakia, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Senegal, Thailand, Tunisia, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

The Commission normally meets every two years, alternately at FAO headquarters in Rome and at WHO headquarters in Geneva, although on occasion it may meet more frequently or in special or extraordinary sessions. Plenary sessions are attended by as many as 600 people. Representation at sessions is on a country basis. National delegations are led by senior officials appointed by their governments. Delegations may, and often do, include representatives of industry, consumers’ organizations and academic institutes. Countries that are not yet members of the Commission sometimes attend in an observer capacity.

A number of international governmental organizations and international NGOs also attend in an observer capacity. Although they are “observers”, the tradition of the Codex Alimentarius Commission allows such organizations to put forward their points of view at every stage except in the final decision, which is the exclusive prerogative of member governments.

To facilitate continuous contact with member countries, the Commission, in collaboration with national governments, has established country Codex Contact Points, and many member countries have National Codex Committees to coordinate activities nationally.

Interest in Codex Alimentarius activities has been growing steadily since the Commission began, and the increasing involvement of developing countries in its work has been a highlight of the progress made, as well as a vindication of the foresight shown by the founders of the Commission.


Compiling the Codex Alimentarius

As stated in Article 1 of the Commission’s Statutes, one of the principal purposes of the Commission is the preparation of food standards and their publication in the Codex Alimentarius.

The legal base for the Commission’s operations and the procedures it is required to follow are published in the Procedural Manual of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Like all other aspects of the Commission’s work, the procedures for preparing standards are well defined, open and transparent. In essence they involve:

Revising and adapting: keeping the Codex Alimentarius up to date

The Commission and its subsidiary bodies are committed to keeping the Codex standards and related texts up to date to ensure that they are consistent with current scientific knowledge and with the needs of the member countries.

Most countries now require less-prescriptive standards - especially for commodities - than those developed in the 1970s and 1980s. The Commission keeps abreast of these changes, and it has been consolidating its many older, detailed standards into new, more general standards. The benefits of this approach are that it allows wider coverage and allows for innovation in the development of new food products. Of course, the scientific basis for consumer protection is maintained and strengthened by this process of review and renewal.

The procedure for revision or consolidation follows that used for the initial preparation of standards.



Under its Rules of Procedure, the Commission is empowered to establish two kinds of subsidiary body:

A feature of the committee system is that, with few exceptions, each committee is hosted by a member country, which is chiefly responsible for the cost of the committee’s maintenance and administration and for providing its chairperson. The designation of host countries for the committees is a standing item on the agenda for the Commission.

The Codex step procedure

Before a decision is made to undertake the development of a new standard or other text, a project proposal is prepared and discussed at Committee level.


The project proposal is reviewed by the Executive Committee and compared against the criteria and priorities established by the Commission.

STEPS 2, 3 AND 4

A draft text is prepared (Step 2) and circulated to member countries and all interested parties for comment (Step 3). The draft and the comments are reviewed at Committee level (Step 4) and, if necessary, a new draft is prepared.


The Commission reviews the progress made and agrees that the draft should go to finalization. After this stage, the draft is also endorsed by the relevant General Subject Committees so that it is consistent with Codex general standards.*


The approved draft is sent again to governments and interested parties for comment and finalized by the relevant Committee. The draft is submitted to the Commission for adoption.


Following a final round of comments, the Commission adopts the draft as a formal Codex text. The standard, guideline or other text is then published by the Codex Secretariat.

* Sometimes the text is considered to be ready for final adoption at this stage - often called Step 5/8.

General Subject Committees

These Committees are so called because their work has relevance for all Commodity Committees and, because this work applies across the board to all commodity standards, General Subject Committees are sometimes referred to as “horizontal committees”. General Subject Committees develop all-embracing concepts and principles applying to foods in general, specific foods or groups of foods; endorse or review relevant provisions in Codex commodity standards; and, based on the advice of expert scientific bodies, develop major recommendations pertaining to consumers’ health and safety.

The Committee on General Principles advises the Commission on such basic matters as definitions, the Rules of Procedure, rules and working procedures for the establishment and operation of Codex Committees and Task Forces, relations with other organizations and the general principles that underlie the preparation of all Codex standards, codes of practice and other texts.

Five of the General Subject Committees have the responsibility of ensuring that specific provisions in Codex commodity standards are in conformity with the Commission’s main general standards and guidelines in their particular areas of competence. They are:

These Committees may also develop standards, maximum limits for additives and contaminants, codes of practice or other guidelines for either general application or in specific cases where the development of a complete commodity standard is not required. For example, the Committee on Food Hygiene has developed a Code of Hygienic Practice for Spices and Dried Aromatic Plants, and the Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants has developed a Standard for Maximum Levels of Lead in Foods. The Committees on Food Labelling and on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses have worked together to prepare the Codex Guidelines on Nutrition Claims.

The Committee on Pesticide Residues and the Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Foods prepare MRLs for these two categories of chemicals used in agricultural production. The MRLs are based on scientific advice regarding the safety of the residues that remain after the substances are used in accordance with defined good agricultural or veterinary practices.

The Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems deals with the application of standards to foods moving in international trade, in particular to the regulatory measures applied by governments to assure their trading partners that foods and their production systems are correctly regulated to protect consumers against food-borne hazards and deceptive marketing practices. The guidelines developed by the Committee include advice on how governments should respond to emergencies in the food safety system, including channels of communication to the public and to other governments by means of the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) emergency information system operated by WHO.

Commodity Committees

The responsibility for developing standards for specific foods or classes of food lies with the Commodity Committees. In order to distinguish them from the “horizontal committees” and recognize their exclusive responsibilities, they are often referred to as “vertical committees”. Commodity Committees convene as necessary and go into recess or are abolished when the Commission decides their work has been completed. New Committees may be established on an ad hoc basis to cover specific needs for the development of new standards. There are currently five Commodity Committees that meet regularly:

The following Commodity Committees work through correspondence or are in recess:

Host countries convene meetings of Codex subsidiary bodies at intervals of between one and two years, according to need. Attendance at some Codex Committees is almost as large as that drawn by a plenary session of the Commission.

Ad hoc Intergovernmental Task Forces

In 1999, the Commission realized that its rather inflexible committee structure was not able to cope with the demand for standards and guidelines across an ever-widening range of subjects. It decided to create a third type of subsidiary body called a Codex ad hoc Intergovernmental Task Force, which is a Codex Committee with very limited terms of reference established for a fixed period of time.

To date the Commission has established the following ad hoc Intergovernmental Task Forces:

Coordinating Committees

Coordinating Committees play an invaluable role in ensuring that the work of the Commission is responsive to regional interests and to the concerns of developing countries. They normally meet at two-year intervals, with a good representation from the countries of their respective regions. Meeting reports are submitted to and discussed by the Commission. The country that chairs the Coordinating Committee is also the Regional Coordinator for the region concerned.

These Committees have no standing host countries. Meetings are hosted by countries of a region on an ad hoc basis and in agreement with the Commission. There are six Coordinating Committees, one each for the following regions:


The Secretary of the Codex Alimentarius Commission is appointed jointly by the Directors-General of FAO and WHO following an open worldwide search for qualified candidates. The Secretary is supported by a small staff of professional and technical officers. The Secretariat is based at FAO headquarters in Rome.

Commission and Executive Committee meetings are administered and serviced entirely by the Rome-based staff. Preparation for these meetings is a formidable task that involves, among myriad other things, the compilation of agenda item papers and the responsibility for logistical arrangements. The preparation of Commission meeting reports is a demanding task in itself, as the report of each meeting must be cleared by participants before its closing. Furthermore, many hours of intense activity are required to ensure that all necessary follow-up is carried out after each meeting.

Many subsidiary committees are hosted, financially maintained and serviced by member governments, while the Commission Secretariat coordinates the activities and oversees the operations of these committees. The Secretariat collaborates with subsidiary committee staff in host countries to decide timing and venues for meetings, issue invitations to member countries, finalize agendas and papers, arrange the recording of meeting proceedings as well as the preparation and distribution of meeting reports and ensure that meeting decisions are acted on. There may be as many as 20 Codex committee meetings in any 12-month period.


The harmonization of food standards is generally viewed as contributing to the protection of consumer health and to the fullest possible facilitation of international trade. For this reason, the Uruguay Round Agreements on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and on Technical Barriers to Trade (SPS and TBT Agreements) both encourage the international harmonization of food standards.

While the growing world interest in all Codex activities clearly indicates global acceptance of the Codex philosophy - embracing harmonization, consumer protection and facilitation of international trade - in practice it is difficult for many countries to accept Codex standards in the statutory sense. Differing legal formats and administrative systems, varying political systems and sometimes the influence of national attitudes and concepts of sovereign rights impede the progress of harmonization and deter the acceptance of Codex standards.

Despite these difficulties, however, the process of harmonization is gaining impetus by virtue of the strong international desire to facilitate trade and the desire of consumers around the world to have access to safe and nutritious foods. An increasing number of countries are aligning their national food standards, or parts of them (especially those relating to safety), with those of the Codex Alimentarius. This is particularly so in the case of additives, contaminants and residues, i.e. the invisibles.

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