CODEX Import Standards (CODEX)
CASE NUMBER: 104
CASE MNEMONIC: CODEX
CASE NAME: Codex Alimentarius
1. The Issue
Under new GATT proposals, nations that set or maintain
standards higher than those set by Codex Alimentarius could be
required to justify them "on scientific grounds" if they affect
trade. Animal welfare or environmental protection are not likely
to be acceptable "scientific grounds" for justifying higher
standards. The main issue is that "there are no internationally
agreed criteria for assessing the relative importance of risks or
benefits relating to the environment, public health, workers'
rights and animal welfare." The World Trade Organization (WTO)
is considering adopting the Codex Alimentarius as the basis for
import standards with respect to health and safety.
The main actors involved in this case study are the FAO,
GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), and more recently
the World Trade Organization (WTO). Many products are affected
the food standards body of Codex Alimentarius (Codex). From the
European Community banning the import of beef containing residues
of growth hormones (or diseased in the HOOF case) to measures
by U.S. beef producers under Sanitary and Phytosanitary
(SPS), Codex covers a wide range of agricultural products
are also indirectly affected in this case).
The relationship between trade and the environment is a
one in this case, for the commission develops food standards
in response to environmental concerns, or in retaliation against
trade barriers based on environment arguments. For example,
is a Codex maximum residue level (MRL's) for pesticides which may
hamper trade in some developing countries which do not have the
technology to keep the residue levels down. At the conference on
Food Standards, Chemicals in Food, and Food Trade held in Rome in
1991, problems which hindered the acceptance of the Codex MRL
data availability; legal constraints; need for more focus on risk
assessment approaches and methods and dietary exposure; and
rationales for recommendations of the joint committee on
residues or rationales different from those followed by national
The focus of this trade/environment issue is whether Codex
regulations could be used as barriers to trade. At the FAO/WHO
conference on Food Standards, Chemicals in Food, and Food Trade
1991, two specific factors that can impede trade were identified:
"complying with food safety demands of importing countries, and
complying with certification requirements of importing
Although recommendations were made to develop a committee to deal
with import-export provisions and to develop guidelines (rather
than standards), thus recognizing that each country must be
responsible for food safety and consumer protection and should
abrogate this responsibility to international organizations, no
steps have been taken to ensure that the environmental issues of
food trade will not result in serious barriers to trade. Also,
issue of conflicts of interest, and the loss of democratic
over food standards, have so far "hardly been addressed by the
Codex internal reform process."
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is a United Nations food
standards body which is run jointly by the Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The
commission was set up in 1963 to develop international food
and quality standards "because of a widely perceived need to
facilitate trade in foods." The vision of the commission
"healthier international trade in agriculture food products;
standards of living for developing nations; and higher consumer
protection standards for food sold around the world."
One of the original goals of Codex was to enable developing
countries to trade their agricultural goods in a fair and equal
market. However, the status of the case through 1993 has
demonstrated the imbalance between rich and poor countries when
comes to trade. Europe and North America combined represent 60%
Codex participants, despite the fact that these regions account
just 14.6 percent of the world's population. Third World
have had technical and financial struggles meeting the high food
standards of industrialized importing countries.
Another current issue related to this case is that of
failures in developing countries.
When output prices are held artificially high and input
prices held low, farmers intensify production and expand
to more vulnerable soils and streambeds. Also, there is
a close connection between agricultural trade reform,
based on revisions in domestic policies in both developed
and developing countries, and environmental policy reform
to correct market failures in agriculture."
Thus, incorporating the Codex food regulations as part of trade
liberalization in the South can breed deleterious affects on the
From the point of view of the U.S. supermarket industry, a
trade agreement signed April 15, 1994 by "bureaucrats in Geneva"
would mean adopting a world food regime under Codex. Richard
Wiles, an official with Public Citizen's environment group,
that "the Codex today permits the use of 40 pesticides for which
the U.S. permits no residues on perishables. Wiles said of these
40 chemicals, the Environmental Protection Agency classifies six
In some cases, Codex permits using carcinogenic chemicals in
food that are either banned by the U.S., or are at levels many
times higher than permitted here. Patti Goldman, a Public
attorney, has said that "faceless bureaucrats with the
GATT Dispute Resolution Tribunal effectively would dictate how
food retailers must maintain, handle and display perishables."
Thus, links between global trade issues and the environment are
becoming evident with the implementation of Codex Alimentarius.
3. Related Cases
(1): Trade Product = FOOD
(2): Bio-geography = GLOBAL
(3): Environmental Problem = HEALTH
4. Draft Author: Pamela J. Ram
B. LEGAL Clusters
5. Discourse and Status: AGReement INPROGress
6. Forum and Scope: GATT/WTO and MULTIlateral
7. Decision Breadth: 130 (WTO and CODEX members)
8. Legal Standing: TREATY
In 1958, the Codex Alimentarius Europeaus was set up jointly
by the International Commission on Agricultural Industries and
Permanent Bureau of Analytical Chemistry. In 1961, the Council
the European Codex Alimentarius adopted a resolution proposing
its work be taken over by The Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Codex
Alimentarius Commission actually came into being in mid-1963
its first session was held in Rome. The first session "shaped
Commission's Rules of Procedure using the guidelines developed at
the inaugural conference in 1962."
Legally, article 5 of the Statutes of the Codex Alimentarius
Commission establishes authority: "The Commission shall
an Executive Committee whose composition should ensure an
representation of the various geographical areas of the world to
which the Members of the Commission belong. Between sessions,
Executive Committee shall act as the Executive organ of the
The Codex Committees are divided into two broad groups:
dealing with general subjects (hygiene or labeling) applicable to
all foods, and those dealing with specific foodstuffs. The
Commission specifies for each Codex Committee whether the
are to be applicable world wide or for a given region. The
approach of the Commission is to attempt to secure international
agreement on the substance of food standards and then invites
governments to accept these standards in various specified ways.
This way, "governments can proceed in accordance with their own
national and constitutional procedures and advise the Commission
to how implementation of the standards can ultimately be achieved
in their countries." It normally takes four to five years for
a standard to be developed and adopted by the Commission. If the
Committee cannot agree on a standard, a "promulgation procedure
deliberately detailed and lengthy" so that participating
governments can balance interests, such as the "ability to meet
standard (producers) and the desire to accept a food with that
level of quality (consumers) against the potential impact on
The CODEX Alimentarius Commission is a United Nations food
standards body with a membership of over 130 governments, and
meetings are dominated by representatives of rich Northern
countries as well as multinational corporations. Public interest
groups and the third world are highly under-represented.
C. GEOGRAPHIC Clusters
9. Geographic Locations
a. Geographic Domain: GLOBAL
b. Geographic Site: GLOBAL
c. Geographic Impact: GLOBAL
10. Sub-National Factors: NO
11. Type of Habitat: GLOBAL
D. TRADE Clusters
12. Type of Measure: Regulatory Standard [REGSTD]
The main objective of the Codex commission, now coupled
GATT and WTO, is to regulate food quality and safety standards.
13. Direct vs. Indirect Impact: INDirect
The case is classified as having indirect affects on trade.
If the GATT decided that a nation's pesticide residue limit
constituted a violation of the GATT treaty, the countries which
lost an opportunity to export their products would be authorized
retaliate against many sectors of the "offending" nation's
The "offending" nation, to keep its standard, could choose "to
compensation to the nation whose trade was affected by the
standard...or it could bow to international pressure and lower
standard to one that would not adversely affect international
14. Relation of Measure to Environmental Impact
a. Directly Related: NO
b. Indirectly Related: YES FOOD
c. Not Related: NO
d. Related to Process: YES HEALTH
The measure is related to the process of producing and
regulating foods (i.e. using pesticides to produce certain food
products and the regulation of pesticide residue by Codex affect
world food trade and the environment).
15. Trade Product Identification: FOOD
The product type is food in general and the final products
foods to be exported which must meet the Codex/GATT/WTO
16. Economic Data
17. Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness: MEDium
18. Industry Sector: FOOD
19. Exporters and Importers: MANY and MANY
E. ENVIRONMENT Clusters
20. Environmental Problem Type: Species Lost Land (SPLL)
21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species
22. Resource Impact and Effect: MEDIUM and REGULatory
23. Urgency and Lifetime: LOW and about 62 years
24. Substitute: SYNTHetic
Switching to similar food products which are not harmful to
the environment or to human health (LIKE).
F. OTHER Factors
25. Culture: NO
26. Trans-Boundary Issues: YES
The fact that plant diseases or biotechnological aberrations
could be exported makes this case a trans-boundary issue (see BBIODIV and
cases). Though no specific country is in question here, this
pose a problem in the future.
27. Rights: YES
The human rights and cultural issues in this case stem
from the economic and cultural differences between the rich North
and the poor South. Foods eaten in various countries will differ
greatly at times. Thus, imports and exports will not only depend
on basic needs, but on the cultures of the importing and
countries. As far as human rights are concerned, the right to
healthy food and knowledge of imported products (i.e.
"eco-labeling" in the European Community) is the main issue.
28. Relevant Literature
Avery, Natalie, Martine Drake, and Tim Lang. "Codex Alimentarius
- Who is Allowed In? Who is left out?" The Ecologist,
23/3, May/June, 1993, 110-112.
Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. "Infamous Year for European
Environment in 1994 Predicted". BNA International
Environment Daily. February 10, 1994.
Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. "International Trade, Groups
Make Last Pitch To Halt Challenges to Food Safety Rules Under
Uruguay Round". Daily Report for Executives. Section A;
70, April 13, 1994, DER 70 d38.
Crawford, Lester M. "International Food Safety Regulations:
Improving the Codex Alimentarius Process". Food
Technology 146, February, 1992, 98-100.
Deegan, Margaret Cahill. "The Implementation of International
Food Standards Developed by the Codex Alimentarius
Commission in the United States: Review and Analysis."
Thesis submitted to the Faculty of The National law
Center of the George Washington University, May 19, 1985.
The George Washington University Law Library, Washington,
Europe Information Service. "Pesticides: Residues in Food
Reckoned to Be Harmless". Europe Environment 431, May
Freeman, Harry L. "A Slam Dunk(el)!". The International
Economy. March/April, 1994, 43-47.
Ostroff, Jim. "Trade Pact May Imperil Food Safety; Warn Ralph
Nader and Public Citizen". Supermarket News 44/17, April
25, 1994, 17-18.
Runge, C. Ford. "Trade Liberalization and Environmental Quality
in Agriculture". International Environmental Affairs,
"Even mud gives the illusion of depth"