Food Law News - FAO/WHO/WTO/Codex - 2002

FSA Consultation Letter, 26 February 2002

Proposed Accession of the European Communities to full membership of the Codex Alimentarius Commission


This consultation is on the proposal for the European Communities to become members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Codex Committee on General Principles (CCGP) considered this issue last year at its 16th Session and the matter was referred to the 24th Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) in July last year. The CAC agenda paper was circulated to the National Codex Consultative Committee for comments on 6 June 2001. The current consultation follows up on this initial circulation in preparation for the forthcoming CCGP in April 2002.


Codex is an intergovernmental body jointly sponsored by the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (WHO/FAO, both United Nations bodies) to develop international food standards. Over 160 countries are members, including all fifteen EU Member States. The Food Standards Agency represents the UK in Codex. All member countries participate equally in Codex and have one vote each.

Recognised international Non-Governmental Organisations (e.g. consumer, industry and academic bodies) are also free to attend as observers, and are able to speak, but not vote. The European Community, represented by the Commission, currently has observer status in Codex.

The European Community is already a member of FAO (but not of WHO). This provides the Community with the legal entitlement to apply for membership of Codex, but does not require it to do so. It also sets a precedent for the way the EU as a Regional Economic Integration Organisation participates in UN inter-governmental organisations. EU Member States are constrained by European Treaty obligations to support an application for full membership of Codex.

EU countries already co-ordinate their positions in a Council Working Group before each Codex meeting. This is because most of the subject matter in Codex is in areas of harmonised EC Food Law and Member States must agree a Community approach. Where a consolidated Community line is agreed, this is usually presented at Codex meetings by the Presidency.

EU Member States are free to speak in Codex, mindful of their responsibilities under the European Treaties, to support and develop the Community position. These arrangements are flexible and have worked very successfully, with the Community and the Commission having 16 powerful and influential voices in the debate, and a wide range of experience and expertise to call upon.

These arrangements have also suited the UK. Having its own voice in Codex, the UK is able to influence decisions directly. It is able to promote new initiatives, such as promoting consumer issues in Codex, and fostering the development of international rules by consensus. The UK is also well placed to act as a link between the Community and key non-EU players such as the US and the Commonwealth countries.


The European Commission has pressed for the European Community to become a member of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, rather than simply maintain observer status. This is in part due to the great importance that the European Community places on food safety, as illustrated by the recent agreement of European General Food Law and of the agreement to establish a European Food Safety Authority.

The proposal for a rule change to enable Community membership was to be put to the Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting in July 2001, but there were insufficient members present to hold a vote. It was also noted that there was some resistance to Community membership because it is not a nation state as are other Codex members, and the principle of one nation, one vote was said to be at stake.

However, the precedent of FAO membership was not considered. The Codex Committee on General Principles (CCGP) meeting on 15 April 2002 will reconsider the matter. CCGP will report any progress to the next meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission where any final decision would be taken.

For Codex to decide

After much discussion between EU Member States and the Commission (which would act as the Community's representative in Codex) on the roles and responsibilities of each if the Community were to join Codex, agreement within Europe was reached. These arrangements would maintain the speaking rights of MS on all issues, but voting rights would pass to the Community on most issues. It should be noted that the proposed working arrangements go beyond those that operate in FAO by giving Member States the right to speak (Member States may speak in the FAO, but at the discretion of the Chair).

It is now necessary to persuade other Codex members that the proposed working arrangements are compatible with Codex procedures. This is the case the EU will be putting to the Codex Committee on General Principles.

This is not without risk. Failure to convince Codex members that the EC proposals are fair and practical working arrangements may lead to a continued block on EC membership of Codex. This could pressure the Community into agreeing membership on less acceptable terms, i.e. EU Member States having no direct voice in debate on issues of food safety affecting their consumers.

The FSA would resist this eventuality as far as is possible, and has received representations from consumer groups to do so. The FSA believe it vital to push for membership on the most favourable terms.

Reference documents

There are three key documents for information in this consultation.

(i) COM(2001) 287 final: a proposal for a Council Decision on the accession of the EC to the Codex Alimentarius Commission. This contains the working arrangements as agreed between Member States and which the EC must now get Codex to endorse.
- See
Com Doc (pdf file)

(ii) ALINORM 01/10-Add.2: a paper for consideration of Membership in the Codex Alimentarius Commission of Regional Economic Integration Organisations. This paper proposes a rule change in Codex to allow the EC to apply for full membership.
(iii) ALINORM 01/33A: an extract from the Report of the 16th Codex Committee on General Principles, Paragraphs 125 - 135, with an earlier version of the proposal for a rule change as an Appendix.
- See Codex Paper (pdf file)

To go to main Food Law Index page, click here.