What is Codex?
- The United Nations (UN) established the Codex Alimentarius Commission (often shortened to ‘Codex’) in 1963 through two of its own organs, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), ostensibly to promote consumer food safety and fair practice in the global food trading.
- The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an inter-governmental body with around 170 member countries. The Commission co-ordinates work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on food guidelines and standards. Most of the international NGOs at Codex meetings are representatives of trans-national corporations. Non-governmental organisations can apply for ‘observer status’ but do not have voting rights.
- Codex has become the primary international standard-setting body for the global food trade and is comprised of a secretariat based at the FAO’s HQ in Rome. There are around 30 committees and intergovernmental task forces hosted by different countries around of the world; each dealing with specific aspects of the food chain, on issues ranging from dairy to cereals, pulses to meats, organic foods, genetically modified (GM) foods, food additives, food supplements, pesticide residues and food hygiene.
- Approximately 300 Codex guidelines and standards are used by its member countries as the basis for their regional and national laws, as well as by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the basis for dealing with international trade disputes.
- Decisions at Codex are based on consensus voting by the government delegates present at a given meeting. The Chair can overule any decision and NGOs can influence discussion but have no voting rights. Much of the decision-making among the most powerful and influential countries in Codex meetings has been made prior to the start of each meeting.
Codex has moved a long way from its original stated objectives which centred around the need to protect consumers by ensuring foods were free from contaminants such as pesticide residues. Now it mandates ‘acceptable’ levels of everything from pesticides, to chemical additives, GMOs and heavy metal contaminants. Codex works on a primitive toxicological framework when it comes to green lighting synthetic chemicals into our food chain. It relies on safety data that come from studying such toxins in isolation and it avoids taking into consideration our total chemical exposure from all sources.
The types and levels of chemicals and contaminants are agreed as 'safe' by so-called ‘international scientific consensus’ but the scientists involved tend to be on the payroll of the largest food and drug companies in the world. They also agree which GM crops are allowed into our food supply (based on precious few data) and seem willing to compromise long-standing practices of organic and sustainable farming so that foods certified and labelled as 'organic' can be shipped from one side of the world to another. Under such regimes supermarkets and their international food distribution companies are set to benefit from the premiums many consumers, particularly in the West, are willing to pay for organic produce.