The codex alimentarius commission was setup in 1961 to act as the international forum for the adoption of food standards. The adopted standards could then be used by individual countries as the basis of their own national laws & regulations. By having a single basis, it was hoped that there would be greater uniformity and hence fewer barriers.
Although, it did achieve much during the first 30 years of its life, the incorporation of the Codex standards into national legislation was limited. In particular, developed countries felt the codex standards might decrease the controls they had developed nationally over many years. Developing countries that did adopt the Codex standards found that access to developed markets was still limited. More authority was, however, given to the Codex Alimentarius Commission with the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. This provided a new recognition to the Codex which established Codex standards as the benchmark against which national legislation could be assessed for compliance with WTO rules.
The Codex Alimentarius is financed and run by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO). Membership is open to any country which is a member of either the FAO or WHO. Interested international organizations can also participate in the work of Codex and assist in the development of standards.
Currently the main meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission is an annual meeting open to all member nations and participating organizations. At this meeting decisions are taken on the adoption of standards and on general issues affecting the work of the commission.
Most of the preparatory work takes place in meetings of the various committees which have responsibility of different areas of work. Some of these committees consider matters of a “horizontal” nature (e.g., food hygiene, food labeling, or food contaminants) where as others consider matter of a “vertical” nature (e.g., fats and oils, sugar and fruits and vegetables). These committees are also open to all member nations and participating organizations. A defined “step-wise” procedure governs the adoption of standards and allows all countries to participate even if they do not attend all the meetings.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission also hosts meetings of regional countries, which enables discussion of matters affecting different regions of the world. These regional committees have been particularly valuable for the developing parts of the world where the sharing of experiences encourages the adoption of approaches suitable to the regional situation.
COMMITTEE STRUCTURE OF CODEX ALIMENTARIUS:
Although the Codex process can seem quite lengthy and time taken to adopt standards can be surprisingly long, achieving agreement on sensitive food issues can be difficult. The Codex tries to work on the basis of the consensus in which standards are adopted by general agreement. Although voting has been used on occasions when there has been a clear difference of opinion, the resulting adoption of a controversial does not usually result in the matter being concluded. More detailed analysis of the differences and a more thorough understanding of the issues in dispute may eventually lead to a better agreed standard.
Potential barriers to trade caused by differences in other matters are generally covered by the “Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade” (the TBT agreement). In addition, with the adoption of procedures for resolving disputes, there now exists a substantial framework for preventing and overcoming potential trades problems relating to food.