Critically Review the Role of Codex Alimentarius in International Food Regulatory Affairs Particularly Since the Formation of the World Trade Organisation

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The Codex Alimentarius is the product of the intergovernmental body known as the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), established by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1961 (FAO 1962). A worldwide recognition of the importance of international trade, the need for facilitation of such trade, while at the same time ensuring the quality and safety of food for the world consumer, led to the establishment of the joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Program, the Codex Alimentarius (Dawson 1995). The Codex gained added significance in 1995 because of the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The Codex standards were explicitly referred to in the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) and implicitly in the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement by the reference to relevant international standards. It thereby became an integral part of the infrastructure that regulates global food trade. From that time, Codex standards were linked to a legal authority as it was assigned a role in WTO disputes (Veggeland and Borgen 2005).

Evolution of Codex Alimentarius

Today the world food trade is valued at between US$300 billion and $400 billion and therefore the advantage of having universally uniform food standards for the protection of consumers is self evident (FAO 2010). Given an expanding global economy, and increasing international trade, the task of ensuring food safety is complex. It is no longer acceptable to enforce only domestic standards. The Codex Alimentarius has become a global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies and the international food trade. It provides the reassurance to anyone anywhere that foods produced according to its codes of hygiene and complying with its standards are safe and nutritious and offer adequate health protection (Dawson 1995).

Before 1995, the Codex procedures were designed to give states and stakeholders maximum control over which standards they adopted. This could, in turn, dampen potential conflicts. The voluntary elements of the acceptance requirements, which prior to 1995 were how a country ensured that no Codex standards would be imposed against its wishes; do not have the same standing in the post-1995 (Victor 2000). During the Uruguay Round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the negotiators agreed that international standards, guidelines, and recommendations should be assigned in order to bring potentially arbitrary and unjustified national food regulations under the tight discipline of the WTO, which was inaugurated as a new international institution (Horton 2001). Measures necessary to protect human health, which is one of the fundamental reasons for the existence of Codex standards, are addressed in the agreed GATT or SPS text. This agreement places an obligation on nations within the WTO, to ensure that SPS measures have a scientific justification, do not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between nations, are not applied in a manner that would constitute a disguised restriction on trade, are not more restrictive on trade than is necessary to provide the chosen appropriate level of protection, and are established and maintained in an open and ‘transparent’ manner (Dawson 1995). In the pursuance of harmonization with regard to food safety the SPS agreement recognised the Codex standards as scientifically justified and accepted these as benchmarks against which national measures and regulations should be evaluated (FAO 2010) (Stewart and Johanson 1998).

The TBT agreement covers technical regulation and standards including food quality measures. The TBT Agreement’s Article 2.4 says that members shall use international standards, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations except when such international standards or relevant parts would be an ineffective or...
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