FAQs about Codex

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What is Codex?

Codex Alimentarius is Latin for 'code' and 'food'. Simply translated, it means 'food code'. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has its headquarters in Rome. It is a body set up by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It coordinates input from more than 180 countries to develop and endorse the standards that comprise the international food code. Called 'Codex' for short, the code was set up in 1963 to protect consumer health and ensure fair practices in world food trade. With more than 200 standards already endorsed by member countries throughout the world, the code continues to grow with new standards being debated and endorsed each year.

Codex standards are a global reference point for international food trade. Many countries insist on compliance with Codex standards for their imports. Not complying with relevant Codex standards could add significant costs to production. Codex standards are also linked to WTO agreements and at least two of these agreements require member countries to align their domestic standards with international standards wherever possible.

If you are exporting food or considering exporting, Codex standards are increasingly being used as benchmarks in WTO dispute settlement processes - and where a trade dispute arises between countries, you may find you are excluded from exporting. Many developing countries also rely on Codex because they don’t have the resources to develop risk-based food safety systems of their own. So if you plan to export to developing countries, Codex compliance is a wise business decision.

Why is Australia involved in Codex standards?

The Australian Government contributes to the development of Codex standards because food is one of our most important exports and we export more than half of all the food we produce. We also contribute to Codex to ensure that international standards are based on sound scientific principles. By doing this we maximise our opportunity to influence the success of Australian food exports by creating a more level playing field on which exporters can compete.

What is the Codex Steps process?

  • Step 1 A project proposal for new work prepared by a Codex subsidiary body is reviewed by the Executive Committee and compared against the criteria and priorities established by the Commission. The proposal is then referred to the Commission for approval as a new standard, guideline or related text for development. The Commission approves and decides who will undertake work.
  • Step 2 The Secretariat arranges for the preparation of a proposed draft standard. This may be through a working group of the relevant committee, an international organisation or other expert bodies.
  • Step 3 The draft text is circulated to member governments and relevant international organisations for comment.
  • Step 4 Comments are reviewed at Committee level and incorporated into the draft standard for discussion.
  • Step 5 The Commission reviews the progress made and determines whether the draft standard should continue to finalisation. Sometimes the text is considered to be ready for final adoption at this stage – called Step 5/8.
  • Step 6 The approved draft is circulated to member countries for another round of comments and finalisation by the relevant Committee.
  • Step 7 Amendments are made by the committee to the revised draft based on comments received and the proposed standard is referred to the Commission for adoption.
  • Step 8 Following a final round of comments, the Commission adopts the draft as a formal Codex text. The Standard, Guideline or other text is then published by the Codex Secretariat.

Note: At Steps 3 and 6 Codex Australia will seek comments from stakeholders that may be used to influence the direction of the draft standard. In addition to discussion at committee level, many committees now undertake more drafting between sessions of the committee through Electronic Working Groups and Physical Working Groups.

How can I contribute to the Codex Australia processes?

Members of the food industry are invited to register as a stakeholder with Codex Australia and provide input to the development of Australian positions on Codex standards under debate.

Besides commenting on Codex discussion papers, members can contribute by providing input to meetings of Codex Advisory Panels or nominating representatives to attend meetings as part of Australian delegations.

  • Codex Advisory Panels
    Codex Advisory Panels coordinate technical and policy input to Codex issues between government, industry and consumer organisations.
  • Australian Delegations
    Australian delegations travel to Codex committee meetings to present and argue Australian positions on Codex issues. Delegations are led by Australian Government officials but your attendance at these meetings is welcome. 

How can State Government and other interested stakeholders contribute to Codex processes?

Codex Australia encourages State Government and other organisations with an interest in Codex to contribute feedback and opinion to Codex processes. To get involved, please email Codex Australia.

What is a "Circular Letter"?

A formal request from a Codex committee for written comments from approved Codex member organisations and governments.

How can I find out what standards have been adopted that affect my industry?

To find out more about standards already endorsed or to download a copy of an existing standard consult the Official List of Standards at the Codex Alimentarius Commission website.

How can I find out if and when issues are being debated and in what forums?

Consult the Codex Meeting Calendar or register for Codex Documents Online by filling out our subscriber form, that way, we can send you information if an issue arises that you have nominated an interest in. We can also include you in consultative processes if you wish.

Further Questions

Please email Codex Australia with your questions and we will either get back to you personally or post a response to this Codex Australia FAQ's list.

Related Links

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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