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

10 December 2002

CODEX EVALUATION - Evaluation of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme - Final Report

The report of the Evaluation of Codex is now available on the FAO web site at: The following is a copy of the Executive Summary

Executive Summary

Purpose and Conduct of the Evaluation

1. The evaluation was commissioned by FAO and WHO and was also designed to meet the request for a review by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The terms of reference specify that the evaluation should provide an input into decision making on future policy, strategy and management at the level of FAO and WHO Governing Bodies and their respective secretariats and to the joint FAO-WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission. It was to make recommendations for the future relevance of standards or alternative approaches in meeting overall objectives in consumer protection, especially for health, and in fair practices for food trade. Particular attention was to be paid to the needs of developing countries. Although the evaluation concentrates on Codex, it covers all aspects of the food standards work of FAO and WHO, which includes capacity building and expert scientific advice.

2. The work of the evaluation was undertaken by an independent team advised by an independent expert panel. The evaluation team consisted of five persons, three of whom, including the team leader, were external to the two Organizations. The independent expert panel had 10 members drawn from all parts of the world and stakeholder interests. At meetings between the evaluation team and the expert panel, key issues, procedures and recommendations of the evaluation were agreed. The evaluation also benefited from the advice of the Codex Executive Committee.

3. In the conduct of the evaluation, members of the evaluation team visited 24 countries in all parts of the world and at all levels of development and also the European Commission. During these visits they held discussions with civil servants responsible for health, agriculture and food, industry, trade and standard setting and with representatives of primary producers, industry, consumers and other sections of civil society. They also had discussions with other international standard setting organizations. A questionnaire was sent to all members of Codex and non-Codex members of FAO and WHO (103 replies received of 186 sent out). A further questionnaire was sent to Codex and WHO - INGO and IGO Observers [ INGO - International Non-Governmental Organization ; IGO - Inter-Governmental Organization .] (40 replies received). There were two calls for comments on the Internet, the first completely open, the second targeted to national NGOs. The evaluation team also met with key informants involved with Codex, including the Chairman and other members of the Executive Committee, Chairs of some Codex committees and staff of the Codex and the FAO and WHO secretariats. A number of background papers were used, including several prepared by members of the expert panel (see Annex 6).


4. The evaluation found that Codex food standards had a very high importance to members. They were seen as a vital component of food control systems designed to protect consumer health and for international trade in the light of the WTO -SPS and -TBT agreements [ WTO - World Trade Organization; SPS - Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures; TBT - Technical Barriers to Trade .] . Standards were regarded as a fundamental prerequisite in consumer protection but had to be looked at in the context of the total system, especially the food safety system. International standards also provide a basis for smaller and lesser developed countries' own standard setting. Codex has been most successful in establishing health-related standards where there is a clear science base.

5. Capacity building in developing countries was found to be essential for countries to protect their own citizens, to benefit from a globalizing market in food and to represent their interests effectively in Codex and WTO negotiations. Codex and FAO and WHO capacity building were found to be continuing to make a substantial contribution internationally and to individual countries.

6. In improving international food standard setting, it was found particularly important to strengthen the input of independent expert advice into Codex especially for risk assessment. The scientific quality of the advice given at present is rated highly, but backlogs exist and demands are expected to rise sharply in future.

7. Based on analysis of the problems, four main areas for improvement to enhance impact were identified. Recommendations of the evaluation are designed to contribute to these:

Codex Mandate and Priorities

8. The health-related demands on Codex are growing with greater consumer consciousness, the emergence of new technologies, pathogens and nutrition-related issues including supplements, functional foods and health claims. If Codex is fully to cover health risks in foods it also needs to address packaging and processing agents. Without prioritization, these would require substantial additional resources for Codex and for expert scientific advice to Codex. Prioritization is thus essential and in determining its standard setting programme, Codex should prioritize as follows:

a) standards having an impact on consumer health and safety;
b) commodity standards responding to the expressed needs of developing countries;
c) commodity standards responding to the expressed needs of developed countries; and
d) informational labelling relating to non-health and non-safety issues.

9. There is a need for a precise mandate for Codex and this should be ratified by the FAO and WHO Governing Bodies. We suggest the mandate could be:-

the formulation and revision of international standards for food, in collaboration with other appropriate international organizations, with priority to standards for the protection of consumer health, while taking into full account the needs of developing countrieshealth and the needs of developing countries.

Codex and the OIE and IPPC

10. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) deals with zoonoses and other livestock diseases transmitted through food, while the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) addresses all aspects of plant pests in food. Food safety increasingly addresses the food chain in a unified way, leading to increased complementarities between Codex, OIE and IPPC. Codex and OIE, in particular, should formalize their relationship and should use joint task forces as appropriate to deal with overlapping issues.

Management Structure of Codex

11. Within the overall structure of FAO and WHO, Codex should have greater independence for proposing its work programme and for the execution of that work programme, once approved by the two parent organizations. Proposals for a revised organizational structure are designed to improve business management and strengthen central management of standards development, leading to greater speed in standard setting.

12. For business management, Codex should have an Executive Board meeting twice a year. This should be smaller than the present Executive Committee, with representation from Codex observers for consumer and industry INGOs.

13. The function of ensuring much tighter management of standards development is regarded as especially important for the effectiveness of Codex. This function could be exercised by the Executive Board, but may be better executed by a Standards Management Committee. This committee would meet as required, but at least once a year. This committee would include Codex committee chairs and observers representing primary producers, industry and consumers.

14. The executive role of the secretariat should be enhanced to support the greater independence of Codex and increased efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. This requires both the expansion of the secretariat and greater seniority of its staff. Substantially increased financial resources are required for the secretariat to exercise its expanding role (initially US$ 1.4 million per biennium).

Codex Committee Structure and Working Procedures

15. Codex working methods should be streamlined, yet become more inclusive. The evaluation recommends that there be a detailed review of the present structure and distribution of responsibilities between Codex committees with a view to achieving greater consistency and focus on priorities, including emerging issues. Commodity committees will be of reducing importance and commodity (vertical) work should be handled through task forces of limited duration, rather than committees. Even in horizontal areas, no new committee should be established until the continuing need and possibilities for progress have been established in a task force. Task forces should also be used to facilitate work involving more than one committee. Regional committees need to be re-structured and given mandates more relevant and responsive to regional needs. All work in all committees and task forces should be time-bound.

16. In Codex there should be a clearer distinction between risk assessment and risk management. Codex committees should concentrate on risk management and not confuse it with assessment. Questions of assessment should be referred to scientific expert committees and/or ad hoc consultations.

17. In a major departure from the present way of working, there should be much more work between sessions with use of facilitators to consult among members and to develop re-drafts for further consideration by committees. The emphasis should shift from developing standards in committee sessions to developing standards between sessions following a consultative process with the members that also fully considers written comments. The use of facilitators and electronic working groups has the potential to foster an inclusive process of consultation for developing countries whereas the greater use of between-session working group meetings could have the reverse effect.

18. In further moves to enhance developing country involvement, as well as that of other countries, encouragement should be given to regional economic groupings and other groups of countries with common interests to develop common positions. In this context, the possibility for one country to speak in meetings on behalf of several countries should also be encouraged, as should committee co-chairs and meetings held in developing countries.

19. More between-session work and meetings held in developing countries entail increased resources of host countries. The concept of shared hosting may be introduced where no one country feels able to bear the full cost (this may also facilitate increased developing country involvement).

20. Committees should complete the process of discussion and agree on draft standards. Standards should only be submitted to the Commission for approval when there is believed to be consensus or the basis for a clear decision. All standards should be submitted for final approval at Step 5. The Commission will accept the standard, or refer the standard back to the committee to explore certain changes, or cancel or suspend work on the standard. The Commission is not a suitable venue for standard drafting and it would not itself change the standard at this final stage.

21. Decisions in committees and the Commission should wherever possible continue to be taken by consensus. There is need for agreement on a definition of consensus and the evaluation proposes "no formal objection by more than one member present at the meeting". In the case of a vote, it should only be in the Commission, and by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting.

Expert Advice and Scientific Risk Assessment

22. Expert advice to Codex needs to have greater identity and coordination and significantly increased resources and its independence and transparency need to be further reinforced within FAO/WHO. There should also be greater distinction between the function of risk assessment undertaken by experts and that of risk management undertaken by Codex committees. At the same time, Codex needs to be able to establish priorities within an agreed budget for expert advice in line with its work programme. This budget needs to be adequate to, not only cover the inputs from JECFA, JEMRA and JMPR [ JECFA - Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants; JEMRA - Joint Meetings on Microbiological Risk Assessment; JMPR - Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues .] to Codex, and also respond to priorities for more ad hoc advice, including for the new issues mentioned in paragraph 8 and for emerging issues.

23. It is recommended that FAO and WHO establish a scientific committee of eminent scientists to provide to Codex and the two Organizations, over-arching scientific advice, including on emerging challenges and to provide guidance and quality control to JECFA, JEMRA, JMPR and ad hoc committees. A joint FAO/WHO Secretary to the Scientific Committee and Coordinator for Risk Assessment and Food Safety and Health Scientific Advice should be appointed and housed in WHO. The secretariats to the existing JECFA, JEMRA and JMPR should continue as at present. WHO is recommended to markedly increase its contribution for health risk-assessment. In addition to the work on food safety assessment, FAO should strengthen its input on good manufacturing and handling practice.

24. Urgency is attached to increasing the throughput of standards for pesticides to ensure that new pesticides can be reviewed quickly and existing pesticides recommendations updated. Expansions in the work of the JECFA and JEMRA are also envisaged. The minimum necessary immediate increase in resources from FAO and WHO is estimated at US$ 2.5 million per biennium.

25. It is also recommended that the consultation requested by the Codex Alimentarius Commission on strengthening scientific support for Codex decision making now be regarded as an immediate priority. A number of points for consideration by the study and subsequent consultation are discussed in the report.

Capacity Building

26. Capacity building for food safety and health systems for domestic consumers and for trade is a major priority of developing countries. In many of these countries, domestic food safety surveillance and controls tend to be very weak.

27. The evaluation found inadequate interaction between FAO and WHO at the country level in developing food safety systems and food standards. The new funding arrangement, for which the secretariat is provided by WTO and some seed money from the World Bank, is welcomed. It is a valuable initiative to foster cooperation for capacity building in relation to standards and the SPS agreement between FAO, WHO, OIE and IPPC. The new trust fund hosted by WHO (Codex trust fund) to enable effective participation in Codex, including attendance at meetings, is also welcomed. A major joint FAO-WHO effort is now recommended to mobilize extra-budgetary funds and foster coordinated bilateral assistance in capacity building. This will help promote a more coordinated approach between WHO and FAO. In addition, FAO and WHO should urgently analyse and report back to the Codex Alimentarius Commission on how they will improve coordination and distribution of work drawing on their mutual strengths and synergies.

In Conclusion

28. We recommend early and continued action for implementation of agreed recommendations with:
early decisions on funding requirements and new managerial arrangements by the FAO and WHO Governing Bodies;
early action by the Codex Alimentarius Commission itself to act on recommendations without loss of momentum by reference to Codex general committees; and
establishment of a task force between FAO, WHO and Codex chair and vice-chairs to follow-up and monitor implementation of the evaluation recommendations.

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