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III. Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and
Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and Agreement
on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT)



Introduction to Codex Alimentarius Commission

Food Quality and Standards Service
Food and Nutrition Division



To familiarize readers with the principles, functions, structure, procedures, and accomplishments of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), one of three international standards setting organizations recognized in the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. The importance of the work of the CAC in establishing quality and safety standards for food in international trade to protect the consumer and facilitate trade is emphasized as a means for all countries to comply with the provisions of the SPS and TBT Agreements of the WTO.


4.1 Introduction

4.2 CAC procedures

4.3 Codex standards acceptance procedures

4.4 The role of expert advice

4.5 Interaction between some Codex Committees

4.6 Codex achievements and current trends



Since 1962 the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) has been responsible for implementing the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. The name Codex Alimentarius is taken from Latin and translates literally as "food code" or "food law". It was founded in response to the world-wide recognition of the importance of international trade and the need to facilitate such trade while at the same time ensuring the quality and safety of food to protect the consumer.

Codex objectives

The Commission's primary objectives are the protection of the health of consumers, the assurance of fair practices in food trade and the coordination of all food standards work. Formulation of food standards covering all the principal foods, whether processed, semi-processed or raw in the form that they reach the consumer is the main role and basis of all CAC work.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) adopted the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and the revised General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade's (GATT) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) in Marrakesh on April 15, 1994. This action resulted in a new emphasis and importance being placed on the work of Codex in establishing international food quality and safety standards. The Codex Alimentarius itself is a series of food standards, codes and other regulations which countries can use as models in their domestic food legislation and regulations, and which can be applied to international trade.

4.1.1 About the Codex Alimentarius Commission


The CAC is an intergovernmental body with a current membership of 165 Member governments. Membership is open to all Member Nations and Associate Members of FAO and WHO. In addition, observers from international scientific, food industry, food trade and consumer associations may attend sessions of the Commission and of its subsidiary bodies. Attendance may be as participants of the national government representation or delegation to the meeting or as an organization which has qualified as an observer organization on its own merits. Observer organizations can fully participate in the proceedings of the meeting with the exception of participating in any decision process, which is reserved by statute for Member governments only.

The Commission meets every two years, alternately in FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy and WHO Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland, to consider the draft standards and related texts that have been prepared by its subsidiary bodies. The Commission adopts codex standards by clear general consent or through a voting procedure in which each Member country has one vote. Almost all standards, guidelines and recommendations have been adopted by consensus1.

The Commission adopts the medium-term programme of work proposed by the Executive Committee on a six-yearly basis, and approves and/or suggests which standards should be developed or revised. It held its 23rd Session at FAO Headquarters in Rome from 28 June to 3 July 1999.


The Codex Alimentarius Commission has a total budget of about US$5 million per biennium, which is jointly funded by FAO (82 percent) and WHO (18 percent). Expenses incurred in connection with attendance at Codex sessions by the delegations of Member governments are paid directly by the Member and are not paid from Codex funds. Consequently, each Member country bears the costs of its own participation, as well as the expenses of Codex activities at the national level. There are no entry fees or dues paid by the Member subsequent to becoming a member of Codex.


An Executive Committee, six Regional Coordinating Committees and a Secretariat assist the Commission in administering its work programme and other activities.

The Executive Committee consists of the CAC Chairperson and three vice-Chairpersons of the Commission together with seven further members elected by the Commission at their regular sessions from among the members of the Commission.

One member is elected from each of the seven geographical regions, with no two members elected from the same country. Terms and re-election are limited so that the chairperson and the three vice-chairpersons may hold their offices for no more than four years. Members elected on a geographical basis may stay in office during two consecutive terms of four years, provided they are re-elected.

The Executive Committee meets once between Commission sessions and also once before each Commission session. During the period between Commission sessions, it acts as the executive organ of the Commission and may make interim decisions for the Commission subject to approval at the next Commission session.

Regional coordinating committees assure that the work of the CAC is responsive to regional interests and to developing countries. Codex Regional Coordinating Committees act in an advisory capacity to the Executive Committee. Such committees have been established for Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Near East, and for North America and the South-West Pacific jointly.


The Secretariat to the CAC is a unit within FAO's Food Quality and Standards Service in the Food and Nutrition Division, located in the FAO Headquarters office in Rome, Italy. It provides administrative support to the Commission. It organizes the sessions of the Commission and the Executive Committee. It coordinates the work of the Commission's subsidiary bodies and is the link with the secretariats of these functioning committees. The secretariats of the functioning Committees are the responsibility of the Member country that has agreed to host that specific committee, as we will see later in the presentation. The Codex Secretariat is also the link with national Codex Contact Points (CCP), designated by each Member, and their national Codex Coordinating Committees (NCCC), if there is one. The Codex Secretariat send the draft Codex texts for government comments and gathers the replies of the Members.

The Secretary to the Commission is the Chief of the FAO/WHO Joint Food Standards Program with a staff consisting of one Senior Officer and five food standards officers. The WHO focal point for Codex activities is currently the Food Safety Unit, WHO Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland.

The work of the Codex Alimentarius is divided between two basic types of committees. The first type is one that deals with a general subject matter(s) that cuts across all types of food classes or groups. Consequently the nature of their work is horizontal. The work of the second type of committee, the Codex Commodity Committees, is specific for foods within a class or group and, consequently, the nature of their work is vertical. We will discuss the general subject committees (horizontal) first.

General subject committees

There are nine general subject matter(s) Committees and they each have different responsibilities. These Committees deal with matters such as hygiene, veterinary drugs, pesticides, food additives, labelling, methods of analysis, nutrition and import/export inspection and certification systems. For example, one Committee is responsible for the elaboration of standards, guidelines and other recommendations related to the evaluation of food additives and environmental contaminants, including radioactivity (Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants). Other Committees establish maximum residue levels for chemicals used in agricultural production (Codex Committees on Pesticide Residues and Veterinary Drug Residues in Foods). Still another Committee is responsible for developing standards, recommendations and guidelines related to microbiological contamination, including their toxins and general hygienic (sanitation) practices and conditions in food manufacturing, processing, production, handling, storing and transporting, wherever and however food is handled (Codex Committee on Food Hygiene). All the active general subject Committees are listed in the brochure "Understanding the Codex Alimentarius Commission". These committees interact with the Commodity Committees, for example, the Committee on Food Labelling proposes standards for labelling or for specific labelling requirements of commodities in co-operation with the specific Commodity Committee. This process of interaction and integration between committees in food standards development by Codex will be discussed in detail later in this presentation.

Commodity committees

The second type of Committee is one that deals with a specific type of food class or group, such as dairy and dairy products, fats and oils, or fish and fish products. There are 12 such Commodity Committees and each works in a vertical manner on the specific food or class of food allotted to them. A complete list of the Commodity Committees of Codex can also be found in the brochure "Understanding the Codex Alimentarius Commission" although the Codex Committee on Processed Meat and Poultry Products listed here has since been abolished. In addition, three ad hoc Intergovernmental Codex Task Forces were established by the 23rd Session of the CAC to develop standards, guidelines and recommendations for foods derived from biotechnology, for animal feeding and for fruit juices. These task forces will function in the same manner as the Codex Committees.

Regardless of the type of Committee (vertical or horizontal functions) the Committees of the CAC are inter-governmental in nature and carry out their work in the prescribed manner set out in the established procedures. Each Codex standard for a given food commodity follows a similar format containing information on:

When the Commission, or the concerned Committee, establishes that there is no pending work to be undertaken, the Committee may "adjourn sine die". This allows the Committee to adjourn until needed and is not cancelled. It only stops operating for an unspecified period of time, until it has a sufficient amount of new work to do to be called back into service.

In conclusion, there is a committee for virtually all types of food or classes of food in international trade. Many of these foods have been the subject of quality and safety standards as a result of the work of the CAC since its early beginnings.


The Commission has comprehensive rules and procedures to ensure the proper conduct of its functions and work programme within an international environment. The Codex Rules of Procedure, as contained in the Codex Alimentarius Procedural Manual, sets out the various details relating to the election of officers, voting procedures, the establishment of subsidiary bodies etc. It also specifies procedures for the elaboration of its standards, guidelines and other texts to ensure that all interested parties have the opportunity to comment on draft texts and to have their comments heard.

Elaboration of Standards and Related Texts

All Codex texts are elaborated according to the same procedure. The Commission, who decides that a standard should be elaborated and also which subsidiary body should undertake the work, invokes the use of the "Uniform Procedure for the Elaboration of Codex Standards and Related Texts" as the procedure to be used. Subsidiary bodies of the Commission, subject to the approval of the Commission or the Executive Committee may also take decisions to elaborate standards.

The Secretariat of the Commission then arranges for the preparation of a "proposed draft standard" which is circulated to the Member countries for comments. In light of the comments received, the "proposed draft standard" is then considered by the subsidiary body who may present the text to the Commission as a "draft standard". If the Commission adopts the "draft standard" it is again sent to Member governments for further comments. In the light of these and after further consideration by the subsidiary body concerned, the Commission reconsiders the draft and may adopt it as a "Codex standard". The Uniform Procedure for the Elaboration of Codex Standards and related texts is described in the Procedural Manual.

It is important to understand the process for elaborating and adopting a new standard through the Codex procedure to appreciate the opportunities for review and input into the process. The steps involved in the adoption of procedures are detailed below.

Step 1
The Commission decides to elaborate a world-wide Codex standard and assigns the work to the appropriate Codex Committee.

Step 2
The Secretariat of the Commission arranges for the preparation of a proposed draft standard.

Step 3
The proposed draft standard is sent to Members of the Commission and interested international organizations for comments on all aspects including possible implications for their economy. Comments at Step 3 are sent to the Secretariat of the Commission.

Step 4
The Secretariat of the Commission sends all comments to the secretariat of the concerned Codex committee. The secretariat of the committee compiles the comments at Step 3, and proposes amendments to the proposed draft standard. Comments and proposed amendments are considered at a session of the committee, where it is decided to propose to advance the text at Step 5.

Step 5
The proposed draft standard as amended previously is submitted to the Commission or to the Executive Committee for its adoption at Step 5 as a draft standard. The concerned Codex committee submits it through the Secretariat of the Commission.

Step 6
The draft standard is sent to Members of the Commission and interested international organizations for comments on all aspects including possible implications for their economy. Comments at Step 6 are sent to the Secretariat of the Commission.

Step 7
The Secretariat of the Commission sends all comments to the secretariat of the concerned Codex committee. The secretariat of the committee compiles the comments at Step 6, and proposes the necessary amendments to the draft standard. Comments and proposed amendments are considered at a session of the committee, where it is decided to propose to advance the text at Step 8.

Step 8
The draft standard as amended previously is submitted to the Commission for its adoption at Step 8 as a Codex standard. The concerned Codex committee submits it through the Secretariat of the Commission. During the Commission's session written proposals for amendments at Step 8 are considered.

The elaboration procedure of Codex standards therefore gives to all Member Countries two opportunities to express their views on the proposed texts, before they are sent to the Commission for adoption. The first opportunity is at the proposed draft standard stage (comments at Step 3). The second opportunity is at the draft standard stage (comments at Step 6). The third and ultimate opportunity is given when the draft standard (at Step 8) is considered for adoption at the Commission session. When the Commission meets, any written proposal received from Members and interested international organizations to amend the draft standard at Step 8 is considered. Before the Commission meets, each Member government receives a copy of the texts which will be proposed for adoption at the Commission's session. A date is given in the accompanying letter to notify the Members of the deadline for sending written proposals on the texts.

Setting up a national structure suitable to provide opportunities for written comments from appropriate technical and policy personnel during this standards elaboration process is, therefore, a most important step towards increasing national input and making a meaningful contribution to the elaboration of Codex standards.

Accelerated procedures

The Commission has two methods available to speed up the elaboration of standards when it is considered necessary. The first method is for the Commission to authorize, on the basis of two-third majority of votes cast, the omission of 2 steps of the formal 8 Step procedure, upon recommendation of the subsidiary body entrusted with the elaboration of the text.

The second method is through a decision of the Commission or the Executive Committee, or any subsidiary body, subject to the confirmation of the Commission or the Executive Committee, to launch the "Uniform Accelerated Procedure for the Elaboration of Codex Standards and Related Texts". The Commission at its 20th Session in July 1993 instituted this Accelerated procedure. Since then, it has been used mainly in consensual circumstances, for example, when an amendment was required to an already existing text.

The steps in the accelerated procedures are detailed as follows.

Step 1
The Commission decides which standard should be elaborated through the Accelerated Procedure. A two-thirds majority (66 percent) of votes must be cast for approval.

Step 2
The Secretariat of the Commission arranges for the preparation of a proposed draft standard.

Step 3
The proposed draft standard is sent to Members of the Commission and interested international organizations for comments on all aspects including possible implications for their economy. The fact that the text is being elaborated under the accelerated procedure is notified to all the Members in the circular letter. Comments at Step 3 are sent to the Secretariat of the Commission.

Step 4
The Secretariat of the Commission sends all comments to the secretariat of the concerned Codex committee. The secretariat of the committee compiles the comments at Step 3, and proposes amendments to the proposed draft standard. Comments and proposed amendments are considered at a session of the committee, where it is decided to propose to advance the text at Step 5.

Step 5
The proposed draft standard is submitted to the Commission for its adoption at Step 5 as a Codex standard. During the session of the Commission, any written proposals received from members and interested international organizations for amendments at Step 5 are considered.


Forms of acceptance

Codex General Standards and Codex Commodity Standards may be accepted by Members in accordance with their own legal and administrative procedures in three different forms which are: "Full Acceptance"; "Acceptance with specified deviations;" and "Free distribution". The notification of acceptance of Codex Standards is to be sent to the Secretariat of the Commission.

Full Acceptance means that the country concerned will ensure that both imported and domestically produced foods comply with all the relevant requirements of the Codex standard. Full acceptance also carries with it the obligation to prevent the circulation of non-complying products.

Acceptance with specified deviations means that the country concerned accepts the Codex standards with the exception of such deviations as are specified in detail in its declaration of acceptance. The concerned country will ensure that both imported and domestically produced foods comply with all the requirements of the "deviated" Codex standard.

Free distribution means that the concerned country will ensure that imported foods complying with all the requirements of the Codex standards are allowed to be distributed within its territorial jurisdiction. In this situation, the concerned country may have adopted national standards which differ from the Codex texts, but considers that Codex requirements do guarantee safety to consumers. Free distribution does not carry with it the obligation to prevent the circulation of non-conforming products.

The situation is different regarding the acceptance of Codex Maximum Limits for Residues of Pesticides and Veterinary Drugs in foods. In these cases, the General Principles of the Codex Alimentarius only provide the possibility of Full Acceptance or Free Distribution. For these two forms of acceptances the same principles as the ones described for Codex Standards apply.


Role of expert advice

The standards, texts and recommendations adopted by Codex on the general subjects for example food additives and contaminants, veterinary drug residues, food hygiene, etc. are first developed by the general subject committees, who often rely on the expert advice provided by independent Expert Committees specializing in the subject areas. They include the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticides Residues (JMPR). Expert advice is also sought from internationally recognized world experts in special subject areas through formal consultations. Such consultations have been recently held on key food safety areas such as Risk Assessment, Risk Management, and Risk Communication, Safety Assessment of Biotechnology, Food Fortification, Animal Foodstuffs Safety, the Use of HACCP Principles in Food Control and Listeria in Fish Products. The Experts' considerations, conclusions and recommendations are provided to the world community as published reports of their deliberations, and are available for use by national governments, international organizations and institutions and other interested parties at all levels including Codex and its subsidiary bodies in carrying out their functions.

4.4.1 The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)

The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is an independent scientific committee of experts, each serving in their own personal capacity and not as members of their government or of their affiliated organization. They carry out the toxicological evaluation of proposed substances to be used as food additives and elaborate the chemical specifications for these substances. The Committee's mandate has been expanded in recent times to include the evaluation of residues of veterinary drugs when used in accordance with good veterinary practices in animals used to produce human food products. They also carry out evaluations of industrial and environmental contaminants of foods, including agricultural production inputs, and make recommendations as to the maximum tolerable levels permitted without noticeable health consequences.


The JECFA meets twice each year (alternately in Rome and in Geneva) to evaluate substances placed on their agenda. A "call" for information, research data and studies on the substances to be reviewed precedes each meeting. Reviews and evaluations are made, based on the information resulting from the "call", when sufficient and appropriate information to make the evaluation is received. Otherwise, the evaluation is delayed until sufficient and appropriate data is available. Included in the review are data available in the open research literature, available private studies and toxicological and specification data supplied by the sponsor of the substance. The JECFA is serviced by a joint secretariat, located in FAO's Food Quality Liaison Group in the Food and Nutrition Division, Rome and in WHO's International Programme for Chemical Safety (IPCS), Geneva.

Food additives and contaminants

Acceptable Daily Intakes

The JECFA evaluation of proposed substances for use as a food additive normally results in an estimate of the amount of the additive, expressed on a body weight basis, that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without appreciable health risk. This is referred to as the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). The term "ADI not specified" is used by JECFA when the total daily intake of the substance from food, does not, in the opinion of JECFA, represent a hazard to human health.

The recommendations of JECFA are published and available for use at the national, regional and international levels. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, and particularly the Codex Committee for Food Additives and Contaminants (CCFAC), considers these recommendations in the elaboration of maximum levels for chemical contaminants and the safe use levels of substances proposed for use, for technical purposes, as additives in food.

In the case of contaminants, JECFA recommends provisional tolerable weekly or provisional tolerable maximum daily intake levels. This is intended to signify permissibility rather than acceptability for the intake of contaminants unavoidably associated with the consumption of otherwise wholesome and nutritious food.

Veterinary drug residues

In the case of veterinary drugs, JECFA recommendations are based on the toxicology of veterinary drugs and their residues, their depletion from edible animal tissues, and a conservative theoretical daily intake of food of animal origin. The Expert Committee carries out toxicological evaluations of veterinary drugs and normally derives an ADI in the same way as for food additives. However, antimicrobial activity may become the end point for setting the ADI when residues of an antimicrobial veterinary drug ingested in food may affect intestinal flora and impact on human health.

Maximum residue limits of veterinary drugs

Maximum residue limits (MRLs) of veterinary drugs in tissues and milk are proposed at levels that can be reached within practical withdrawal times. JECFA also estimates potential intake of residues of veterinary drugs using the proposed MRLs and standard assumptions about the consumption of edible animal products, such as meat and milk. These estimates of potential intakes are compared with the ADIs. The JECFA recommendations on MRLs associated with veterinary drug residues are considered by the Codex Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Foods (CCRVDF).

4.4.2 The FAO/WHO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR)

Maximum residue limits of pesticide residues

The Joint Meeting of the FAO Panel of Experts on Pesticide Residues in Food and in the Environment and the WHO Core Assessment Group come together to form the FAO/WHO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR). This group carries out toxicological evaluations of pesticide residues, normally resulting in an estimate of the ADI. In addition, JMPR proposes maximum residue limits (MRLs) for individual pesticides in or on specific commodities. These MRLs are primarily based on the residue levels estimated in supervised field trials when the pesticide is used according to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). In cases where initial estimates indicate that the ADI may be exceeded, more refined intake calculations are performed using national food consumption data and information from pesticide residue monitoring programmes.

These Expert Committees establish chemical safety standards based on a review of toxicological studies in the most sensitive test animal species. They factor in an adequate level of safety (safety factor), use risk assessment procedures, consider use and consumption patterns and define the specifications of the identity and purity of food grade chemicals to be used


4.5.1 Food hygiene and food labelling

The Codex Committee for Food Hygiene and the Codex Committee for Food Labelling carry out their functions by developing proposed general subject standards. For example, the Labelling Committee has elaborated the Codex General Standard for the Labelling of Pre-packaged Foods. When a Commodity Committee considers the development of a standard of a pre-packaged food, they merely refer to the Labelling standard as the requirements for the labelling aspect of the standard being considered. In another example, the Food Hygiene Committee has elaborated the recommended International Code of Practice - General Principles of Food Hygiene. When a Commodity Committee considers the development of a food standard, they in turn refer to the Code of Practice in the standard section related to Hygiene.

When the Commodity Committee thinks that the general provisions are not sufficient or are inadequate for a specific product, they may propose additional or different provisions in the relevant sections of the standard. These are referred to the competent subject matter committee for consideration and endorsement. The appropriate general subject committee would review what the Commodity Committee developed and offer suggested changes, revisions etc. if necessary, or endorse it as written.

4.5.2 Food additives and contaminants provisions

When preparing a standard, Commodity Committees prepare a section on food additives containing all the necessary provisions for this specific standard. All authorized additives that are considered technologically necessary, or are widely permitted for use in food are listed with a Maximum Level of Use expressed for example in mg/kg, g/kg or mg/l of product. Similarly, Maximum Levels are also proposed for major contaminants.

When the text has been adopted as a Draft Standard (Step 5 of the procedure), the provisions related to additives and contaminants established by the Commodity Committee are referred to the Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants (CCFAC) for its endorsement. For food additives, the CCFAC determines whether or not the proposed use is consistent with the provisions of the Codex General Standard on Food Additives, in particular the General Principles for the Use of Food Additives, and whether the combined use of the additive in the commodity and all other foods would pose a potential hazard for consumers' health. The same procedure is followed in regard to contaminants.

4.5.3 Methods of analysis and sampling

Methods of analysis and sampling that are recommended by Codex are published in Volume 13 of the Codex Alimentarius. The section on Methods of Analysis and Sampling in the Codex Standard usually refers the reader to this volume for methods and sampling information rather than including the method in the standard itself. The Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling (CCMAS) may develop methods which are of general application, and in this case, is responsible for carrying out all the steps of the procedure for adopting the method as part of the Codex Alimentarius.

Similarly, when a Commodity Committee proposes a method of analysis or a sampling procedure, the proposal must be referred to CCMAS at Step 4 of the adoption process. This allows the Member governments time to review and offer comments on the proposal at the earliest stage in the development of the standard.

The Codex Committees on Food Hygiene (microbiological methods), the Codex Committee on Food Additives (food additive specifications), and the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues also elaborate methods of analysis and sampling. These methods are not referred to CCMAS as the proposed methods are originating from Codex Committees recognized for their competence in these fields.


Standards produced

Since its beginning, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted 204 different food standards for food in all of the main groups of food traded at the international level. Codes of Practice provide guidance on acceptable manufacturing and food processing and handling practices during production, transport and storage. The CAC has elaborated 43 Codes, some which have a general application across food product classes or groups, while others are specific for certain commodities or foods. These Codes serve as a means of providing specific recommendations to producers and to government regulatory organizations on specific Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) for the commodities they address. These Codes, when used appropriately, can serve to enhance compliance with Codex standards and international trading requirements.

The review of Pesticides for approved use in agricultural pest control practice resulted in the evaluation of 197 pesticide chemicals, and establishing 2516 maximum residue levels for these pesticides in various foods.

Related to food contaminants, CAC has established guidelines for the maximum tolerable levels for 25 common industrial and environment contaminants of foods. Food additive evaluations have resulted in establishing acceptable use levels (with no appreciable health risk over a lifetime) for 1300 additives used in food. Veterinary drugs have also been evaluated for the safety of drug residues remaining in foods of animal origin, when the drugs are administered under the control of acceptable Good Veterinary Practices in animal husbandry. Under the conditions of use specified, 54 drugs have been found to be acceptable with established MRLs and 289 limits for veterinary drug residues have been established.

4.6.1 Risk based system of food standards

Science-based standards

The CAC has considered science to be the basis for elaborating food standards, guidelines and recommendations, particularly in its mandate to protect human health and to facilitate the trade in safe, wholesome and nutritious food at the international level. In today's trading environment there is no question that this is one of the most important aspects of trade in food for all countries. In order to reaffirm the basic principles on which the Codex functions, during its 21st Session (Rome, June, 1995), the Commission adopted four statements of principle confirming the role of science as the primary factor which underpins all Codex work, especially in regard to standards and other recommendations directed towards the protection of consumer health. These statements are quoted below.

"The food standards, guidelines and other recommendations of Codex Alimentarius shall be based on the principle of sound scientific analysis and evidence, involving a thorough review of all relevant information, in order that the standards assure the quality and safety of the food supply"2.

"When elaborating and deciding upon food standards Codex Alimentarius will have regard, where appropriate, to other legitimate factors relevant for the health protection of consumers and for the promotion of fair practices in food trade".

"In this regard it is noted that food labelling plays an important role in furthering both of these objectives".

"When the situation arises that members of Codex agree on the necessary level of protection of public health but hold differing views about other considerations, members may abstain from acceptance of the relevant standard without necessarily preventing the decision by Codex".

4.6.2 Impact of the WTO Agreements

Codex standards in the WTO Agreements

As Codex standards have the full support of the SPS Agreement which advocates them as the basis for all national standards, they will play a significant role in the harmonization of national food safety standards and may be used as a reference point for resolving trade disputes between WTO Members.

Codex provides the reassurance to everyone that any foods produced according to its codes of hygienic practice and complying with its standards are safe and nutritious and offer adequate health protection. Dr. H. Nakajima, the former Director-General of the World Health Organization has stated that "Stricter standards, other than Codex, do not necessarily offer better health protection but may be used as non-tariff barriers to trade".

The specific Codex food safety provisions, which are recognized by the SPS Agreement, include the maximum residue limits for pesticides and veterinary drugs, the maximum level of use of food additives, the maximum levels of contaminants, and food hygiene requirements of Codex standards.

In the specific area of Food Hygiene, the CAC has revised its main document "Recommended International Code of Practice - General Principles of Food Hygiene" to incorporate risk assessment principles and to include specific references to the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) System.

Throughout the world more attention is now being paid internationally to risk-based inspection systems; targeting hazardous foods to reduce the risks associated with them through prevention and control measures.


Emphasis is being placed on the concept of "equivalency" as a basis for acceptable safe food trade. Equivalency is interpreted as meaning that the exporting country need not apply the same regulations for processing and production as required in the importing country, provided that the outcome of the regulatory process is the same in terms of assuring the safety of the food product.

Equivalent systems used by trading partners can result in acceptable export certification of shipments with minimum controls. Furthermore, Mutual Acceptance Agreements between countries can also be negotiated when there are equivalent systems among trading partners. This provides the opportunity to simplify trade procedures and to reduce or eliminate the need for stringent and prescriptive trading conditions between trading partners. Codex standards and Codes of Practices can serve as a basis for evaluating food control systems for equivalency.

The objective of the TBT Agreement is to prevent the use of national or regional technical requirements, or standards in general, as unjustified technical barriers to trade. It covers all types of product standards, including all aspects of food standards except those requirements related to SPS Agreement. The TBT Agreement includes measures designed to protect the consumer against deception and economic fraud.

The aspects of food standards that TBT requirements covers specifically are quality provisions, nutritional requirements, labelling, packaging and product content regulations, and methods of analysis. The Agreement basically provides that all technical regulations must have a legitimate purpose and that the impact or cost of implementing the standard must be proportional to the purpose of the standard. It also places emphasis on international standards.

The TBT Agreement does not specifically name international standard setting bodies, whose standards are to be used as benchmarks for judging compliance with the provisions of the Agreement. However, the SPS Agreement does do this and specifically names the Codex Alimentarius Commission as the only recognized international food standard setting body. The fact that the Codex Alimentarius is designated in the SPS Agreement indicates the value of the Codex Standards given in the negotiations of the Agreements and the value spills over into the areas covered by the TBT Agreement.

It is worth remembering that "National regulations which are consistent with Codex meet the requirements of SPS and TBT Agreements".

When joining the WTO, countries agree to adhere to a package containing the SPS and TBT Agreements. These two agreements set the standards and disciplines necessary to assure the regulation of food quality and safety in international food trade. It stresses that WTO Member governments have agreed to use Codex standards as their reference.

4.6.3 Codex contact points and National Codex Coordinating Committees

National involvement with Codex

Where a country's food quality and safety requirements need to be developed further, the adoption of Codex standards is an appropriate measure to comply with the requirements of the SPS and TBT Agreements. The first step is to develop a national food strategy to strengthen food quality and safety control procedures, fully participate in the work of Codex, and establish a national Codex Contact Point. The CAC requests its Member countries to inform the Secretariat of the address of a national Codex Contact Point. The Core Functions of Codex Contact Points have been defined by the Commission (see the Codex Procedural Manual). Some countries have found it beneficial to also establish a National Codex Coordinating Committee (NCCC) to coordinate and focus efforts related to Codex and food control in general. The relationship of official food control measures to compliance with Codex and consequently with WTO trade requirements are to be covered in Module III.7. What is important at this point is to recognize that many problems with compliance with the SPS and TBT Agreements can be overcome by strengthening the national involvement with respect to Codex activities.

A NCCC can serve as a focal point for coordination, development and promotion of programmes, and information on the national strategy to emphasize the production of food, which complies with Codex Standards, and consequently meets international trading requirements. They can serve to inform political leaders, industry associations and groups, individual entrepreneurs, consumers and other interested parties of the national activities to improve the level of consumer protection from improved quality and safety of the food supply and to enhance the national prospects for international trade.

A NCCC is a means to participate in and monitor the elaboration of Codex Standards, so that national economic interests are taken into account or at least considered when international standards are elaborated.

A NCCC is a body which can act as a national forum on food safety and Consumer protection matters, where all concerned parties can discuss the implications of Codex texts on the food industry and concerned government authorities. This forum enables the food industry and the government to take appropriate action at national level to ensure that exported foods are not rejected and that imported foods meet Codex requirements.

FAO has a mandate to provide technical assistance to its Member governments to ensure that domestic and imported and exported food meet basic quality and safety requirements. Technical assistance is provided in a variety of ways by FAO's Food and Nutrition Division (ESN), in coordination with FAO Regional and Sub-Regional Offices.

The assistance given through projects has centred on assessing the needs of the existing food control system, which includes:



Codex Alimentarius. 1999. Vol. 12 - Milk and milk products. Available on the Internet at:

Codex Alimentarius. 1999. Vol. 9 - Fish and fishery products. Available on the Internet at:

Codex Alimentarius. 1998. Food labelling - Complete texts. Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1998. Volume 2B. Pesticide residues in food - Maximum residue limits, (2nd ed., revised). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1997. Food Hygiene-Basic Texts - General Principles of Food Hygiene, HACCP Guidelines, and Guidelines for the Establishment of Microbiological Criteria for Foods. Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1997. Procedural manual of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, (10th ed.). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1997. Supplement to Vol. 1B - General requirements (food hygiene), (2nd ed.). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1996. Supplement 1 to Vol. 5B - Fresh fruits and vegetables, (2nd ed.). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1996. Vol. 7 - Cereals, pulses, legumes and derived products and vegetable proteins, (2nd ed., rev.1995). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1996. Vol. 3 - Residues of veterinary drugs in foods, (2nd ed., rev.1995). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1995. Vol. 5A - Processed and quick frozen fruits and vegetables. Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1995. Vol. 1B - General requirements (food hygiene). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1995. Vol. 1A - General requirements, (revised). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1994. Vol. 13 - Methods of analysis and sampling. Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1994. Vol. 11 - Sugars, cocoa products and chocolate and miscellaneous products. Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1994. Vol. 4 - Foods for special dietary uses including food for infants and children. Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1993. Vol. 10 - Meat and meat products including soups and broths, (2nd ed.). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1993. Vol. 8 - Fats, oils and related products, (2nd ed.). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1993. Vol. 5B - Tropical fresh fruits and vegetables, (2nd ed.). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1993. Vol. 2 - Pesticide residues in food, (2nd ed.). Rome.

Codex Alimentarius. 1992. Vol. 6 - Fruit juices and related products (2nd ed.). Rome

Codex Alimentarius Commission. 1999. Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme - Report of the twenty-third Session, Rome, 28 June - 3 July 1999. Rome.

FAO/WHO. 1999. CD-ROM containing the full text of the printed version of Codex Alimentarius in English, French and Spanish. Rome.

FAO/WHO. 1999. Understanding the Codex Alimentarius. Rome.


1 One Codex Standard (Natural Mineral Water), five Maximum Residue Limits for growth-promoting hormones, and Codex Guidelines for the Design, Operation, Assessment and Accreditation of Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems were adopted by the Commission by majority voting.

2 FAO. 1995. Report of the 21st Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Rome.

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