Accession of the European Community to the Codex Alimentarius Commission

Accession of the European Community to the Codex Alimentarius Commission

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Accession of the European Community to the Codex Alimentarius Commission


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Food safety > International dimension and enlargement

Accession of the European Community to the Codex Alimentarius Commission

Document or Iniciative

Council Decision 2003/822/EC of 17 November 2003 on the accession of the European Community to the Codex Alimentarius Commission [Official Journal L 309, 26.11.2003].



The Codex Alimentarius (or food code) is a joint programme of the FAO (the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation) and the WHO (World Health Organisation), which lays down food health standards that serve as a reference for international trade in foodstuffs.

Since 1994 and the entry into force of the WTO Agreements on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) and on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement), the legal relevance of the Codex standards has increased. Indeed these two Agreements make reference to those standards, meaning that the latter are used as the basis for the evaluation of national measures and regulations.

At present, all Member States of the European Union (EU), and, since the end of 2003, the European Community as such are members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is the body in charge of updating the Codex.

This Decision concerns the application of the European Community to accede to the CAC, achieved in 2003. It is accompanied by a declaration on the exercise of competence between the European Community and its Member States and by the text of the Arrangement between the Council and the Commission regarding preparation for meetings and statements and the exercise of voting rights within the CAC.

Background to the accession negotiations

Since Article 2 of the CAC’s statutes authorises any FAO member to become a full member, the European Community started negotiations to that end in the mid-1990s.
In January 1994, the Council authorised the Commission to enter into negotiations, on behalf of the Community, with the CAC Secretariat with a view to defining the conditions and procedures for the Community’s accession.
Discussions between the Commission and Council had since then been blocked by Member State concerns about internal coordination and the division of responsibilities.
As a result of the White Paper on Food Safety, which reaffirmed the benefits of CAC membership, negotiations with the CAC Secretariat on accession conditions resumed during 2001.

In June 2003, the CAC amended its Rules of Procedure allowing regional economic integration organisations to become members, thus opening the way to the accession of the European Community alongside its Member States.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission: aims and mode of operation

The CAC was created by the WHO and FAO in 1963 to implement their Joint Food Standards Programme aimed at protecting the health of consumers, ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by governmental and international organisations.

Its main aim, then, is to define international standards, codes of practice and other guidelines and recommendations concerning agricultural and fishery products, foodstuffs, food additives, food contaminants, animal feed and the residues of veterinary products and pesticides as well as labelling, inspection and certification systems, analysis and sampling methods, ethics and good farming practice codes and food hygiene practices.
These standards are then published in one of the Codex’s 13 volumes:

  • general requirements and general requirements for food hygiene;
  • general texts on pesticide residues in food and maximum limits for same;
  • residues of veterinary drugs in foods;
  • foods for special dietary uses, including foods for infants and children;
  • processed and quick-frozen fruits and vegetables, fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • fruit juices;
  • cereals, pulses and derived products and vegetable proteins;
  • fats and oils and related products;
  • fish and fishery products;
  • meat and meat products;
  • soups and broths;
  • sugars, cocoa products and chocolate and miscellaneous products;
  • milk and milk products;
  • methods of analysing and sampling.

The CAC’S work also encourages food traders to voluntarily adopt ethical practices. To that end, the CAC has published a Code of ethics for international trade in food, which now forms part of the Codex.

The CAC currently comprises 171 countries and holds meetings every year. It is helped in developing its standards by subsidiary bodies, which include committees dealing with horizontal matters (for example, general principles, labelling, food hygiene, food additives and contaminants, etc.), committees dealing with vertical matters, i.e. specialising in one type of product (for example, milk and milk products, fish and fishery products, etc.), “task forces” dedicated to a particular task of limited duration and regional coordinating committees. In addition, the experts’ meetings organised and supported by the FAO and the WHO provide the essential scientific basis (risk assessment) for the CAC’S work and the publications resulting from their activities act as international references. There are three of these groups of experts, the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR), the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Microbiological Risk Assessment (JEMRA) and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

Activities of the European Community and its Member States within the CAC

The CAC’s Rules of Procedure now allow a member organisation to share its voting rights with its Member States in accordance with their respective competences. When the member organisation is entitled to vote, the number of votes it may cast is equal to the number of Member States present when the vote is taken, hence the importance of Member States being present. This rule is the result of a compromise reached with developing countries, which, in the interests of fairness, could not accept the vote of a country not present being counted.

Competence is assigned as follows:

  • the European Community has exclusive competence for matters on which the rules have already been harmonised, either fully or to a large extent, at Community level. In such cases, the Commission speaks and votes in the name of the Community, although Member States have the right to speak in favour of the Community position and to react to contributions from other countries;
  • the Member States have exclusive competence for all organisational matters (for example, legal or budgetary questions) and for procedural matters (for example, the election of chairpersons, the adoption of agendas and the approval of minutes);
  • competence is shared where rules have been only partially harmonised: the vote is exercised either by the Member States or the Community, depending on the degree of harmonisation achieved. In such cases, the Presidency and the Commission put forward the common position. Member States may also speak in order to support and/or develop the Community position and to react to contributions.

Before each meeting of the CAC or of one of its subsidiary bodies, an annotated agenda, indicating who, within the organisation or its Member States, is competent for each item and is to exercise the right to vote, is drawn up and given to all participants.

In addition, the Member States and the Commission have the right to participate in the Codex working groups and drafting committees and express their opinions there. Member State and Commission representatives endeavour to reach a common position and defend this during discussions in the working groups and drafting committees,

The HACCP principles (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) and the Codex Alimentarius

The measures taken by the EU with regard to food safety and food frequently invoke the Codex as justification. This is true particularly of the HACCP principles, which are the basis of European legislation relating to food hygiene and official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption.

These principles, developed by the CAC since the early 1990s, prescribe a number of stages to be followed throughout the production cycle in order to allow, on the basis of a risk analysis, the identification of critical points that need to be monitored to ensure food safety:

  • identification of all risks to be avoided, eliminated or reduced to acceptable levels;
  • identification of the critical or limit points where surveillance becomes essential;
  • establishment and application of effective procedures for monitoring critical points;
  • adoption of corrective measures when monitoring reveals a critical point is being overstepped.

Relationship between the WTO and the Codex Alimentarius

When the WTO was set up in April 1994, two specific agreements were concluded in Marrakech to restrict barriers to trade justified on the basis of protectionist technical regulations:

  • the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement);
  • the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement).

The SPS Agreement lays down the conditions on which a State can adopt and implement health measures (animal health, food safety) or phytosanitary measures (protection of plants) that have a direct or indirect impact on international trade. This Agreement makes explicit reference to the standards defined by the Codex to impose limits on the actions of the signatory States.
Thus the preamble to this Agreement declares itself in favour of furthering “the use of harmonized sanitary and phytosanitary measures between Members, on the basis of international standards, guidelines and recommendations developed by the relevant international organisations, including the Codex Alimentarius Commission”.

The TBT Agreement aims to guarantee that technical regulations and standards do not create unnecessary obstacles to international trade. It too makes extensive reference to international standards, though without explicitly citing the Codex, in the context of the harmonisation that it advocates.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Decision 2003/822/EC 17.11.2003 OJ L 309 of 26.11.2003

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *