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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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The Codex Process

by Merton Smith, Ph.D., J.D., Special Assistant for International Activities, Center for Veterinary Medicine
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter November/December 2005 Volume XX, No VI

Proposed Codex Alimantarius Commission (CAC) standards go through an eight-level process to be -finalized.

In the first four steps, the CAC accepts a proposal for a standard and assigns the proposal to the appropriate committee to develop the details of a standard, and the committee sends the proposed standard to countries for review and comment and then incorporates the comments into a proposed standard. For Step 5 through 7, the CAC initially reviews the draft standard and sends it forward to member countries and Codex committees for review and comment.

The last step, Step 8, is the CAC’s final review of the standard, followed by acceptance, modification, or rejection of the standard.

The development of food standards involves two CAC reviews, at Step 5 and 8. Even though the CAC is now meeting every year instead of every other year as in the past, the typical development of a Codex standard still takes a number of years to complete because of the complexity of this process.

Once the CAC establishes a standard for a substance, countries must consider accepting the -standard. If a country does not accept a Codex standard and establishes a more stringent standard, it should be prepared to justify and adequately explain the scientific basis for the more stringent standard.

As described in the related story (“CVM Participation in Codex Alimentarius: Important for Food Safety as well as for International Trade” page 6), under the Sanitary Phytosanitary Agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO), governments have the right to enjoy standards that are more stringent than Codex, but the standards must be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human health or safety and they should not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between other countries where similar conditions exist.

If a trading partner believes that a food standard that is more stringent than a Codex standard presents an unjustifiable barrier to trade, the trading partner may seek remedies through the WTO. That is precisely what happened leading up to the U.S.-European Union hormone trade dispute (see related article, “Beef Hormone Trade Dispute and Codex”).