EU and the Codex Alimentarius Commission

European Union

According to the list of Codex Members is the EU a Member (actually a Member Organization). Looking in the list one can also note, that nations beloning to the EU (e.g. Germany, France,..) are Codex Members. At first glance, this looks quite strange. The EU is not a nation, but a collection of nations. How does the EU as Member Organization then behave within Codex, and what can the EU members do in a Codex meeting?

The EU is a collection of states. With regard to the policy on food and feed safety, it should be understood that the EU members have a harmonized legal framework. There are Regulations and Directives, which include many standards. These are obligatory for the EU members. All members use the same standards, making an internal market within the EU with free movement of foods. These Regulations and Directives are not made in Codex Alimentarius, but are developed by the European Commission and the EU Member States, and endorsed by the European Parliament. So the question is now, how the EU standards relate to the Codex Alimentarius standards?

EU standards versus Codex standards

From the agreement in the Codex Alimentarius Commission previous described it can be understood, that Codex standards should be adopted by Codex Members. Besides it was stated in the SPS Agreement that the Codex standards are the reference points in international trade conflicts for the WTO. This means in practice that the EU can develop food safety standards, but that they should be in agreement with those of the Codex Alimentarius. However, it should be clear that the EU can also have food safety standards which do not exist in the Codex standards, as this is not in conflict with the Codex agreement.

EU Member Organization and the EU Members

Many food safety standards in the EU are similar to those of the Codex Alimentarius (e.g. MRLs for pesticides). If these standards are to be updated, then the European Commission will act in the Codex Alimentarius Commission meetings on behalf of all EU members. The Member Organization is reponsible for the EU position in the Codex meetings regarding all harmonized EU food safety standards. The EU position is prepared by the European Commission and the EU Member States (usually in Brussels meetings). The EU members that attend a meeting can join the discussion, but have to support the harmonized EU position that is presented by the representatives of the European Commission.

The EU has also many food safety standards that do not exist in the Codex Alimentarius (e.g. dioxins). Sometimes the Codex Members feel the need for a similar standard. Then the Member Organization also acts on behalf of all EU members, and the EU will plea for a standard that is copied from the EU Regulation. If however the Codex decides for another standard, then the EU must update their existing legislation accordingly.

Finally, if a Codex Committee decides to work on a new standard that does also not exist in the EU legal framework, then all EU members can have their own national opinions; the European Commission will then not formally speak on behalf of the EU members.

One special situation remains. That situation caused much friction in the past between the EU and other Codex Members. These relate to EU "forbidden" chemicals, such as genotoxic carcinogens, and chemicals with hormonal properties. Various non EU Codex members have a different approach on how to deal with such compounds. It is EU policy not to authorize these compounds for use in food and feed; in these cases they follow the precautionary principle. Many Codex members however do not consider these chemicals as hazardous, so a MRL can be established according to these countries (e.g. for growing hormones). Consequently, some proposals in the Codex Alimentarius can not be supported by the EU because of fundamental differences in food safety politics between Codex member states, leading to that friction and a stalemate situation. A vote in the CAC might be the way to resolve this, as was shown in the case of the Codex MRL for ractopamine.