By Kuei-Jung Ni
The Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) that governs the making of international standards on food safety will reach its 50th anniversary in October 2013. The international institution was established in 1963 under the auspice of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its mandate is to approve food standards with a view to ensuring food safety and promoting food trade by harmonizing national food regulations. As of 2013, the Codex consists of 186 members.
Compliance with Codex standards used to be on a voluntary basis; the standards initially gave nations guidance in building up their food safety regulatory regimes without exerting legally binding force. However, the status of the standards has been drastically changed in the wake of the effectiveness of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. That agreement explicitly requires WTO members to base their SPS measures on international standards, including those of Codex, and gives national measures that comply with Codex standards a presumption of SPS-consistency. Since then, the Codex has gained much weight, especially in the determination of the legality of WTO members’ disputable measures.
From a global governance perspective, WTO and Codex institutionally should be in a cozy and mutually supportive relationship. Thus, it is not surprising to see the SPS Committee of the WTO, at its recent session, send the Codex a quite polite and encouraging message, calling for continued support for the body, and for trade measures to be based on science. The US, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Belize, Russia, Chile, Senegal, the EU, Burkina Faso, Pakistan, Switzerland, Norway, South Africa, Argentina, Dominican Rep, China, Cuba and Lebanon (a WTO observer) echoed the key message mainly articulated by Brazil in praise of Codex’s work.
Yet, not all WTO members were overwhelmed by the message. In particular, the European Union (EU), even while it agreed that the tasks of the Codex are significant, maintained that Codex standards are not one size fits all, and emphasized that countries still have the right to adopt appropriate measures that deviate from Codex. Continue reading