Codex Alimentarius

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The Codex Alimentarius Commission was established in 1963 by the FAO of the United Nations (FAO) and the WHO. The Codex Alimentarius Commission is a body run by the World Health Organisation and the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation to determine the quality and safety of food. According to its website:

the main purposes of this programme are protecting health of the consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations.[1]



Codex has received much criticism due to its ties with pharmaceutical industry, chemical industry and large agro-business, while ignoring the needs and issues of small scale farmers. An excerpt of "Guaranteeing Corporate Rights" by David C. Korten states

”Governmental delegations to Codex routinely include nongovernmental representatives, but they are chosen almost exclusively from industry. One hundred forty of the world's largest multinational food and agrochemical companies participated in Codex meetings held between 1989 and 1991. Of a total of 2,587 individual participants, only twenty-six came from public-interest groups. Nestle, the world's largest food company, had thirty-eight representatives. A Nestle spokesperson explained, "It seems to me that governments are more likely to find qualified people in companies than among the self-appointed ayatollahs of the food sector.”[2]

Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini had the following description of the Codex Alimentarius standards:

“The World Trade Organization and the Codex Alimentarius Commission are the institutions which govern trade and food safety. Created in 1962, the Codex Alimentarius Commission establishes safety regulations “to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in food trade”. The European Union and the United States have 60% of the delegates though only representing 15% of the world population. Needless to say the agrifood lobby exercises a major influence within these organizations. It is enough to remember that in 1997 the Codex Alimentarius Commission placed a US proposal on the agenda to prevent products based on raw milk being traded. The basic structures of the World Trade Organization are extremely unjust and undemocratic. The dogma of free trade stands opposed to sustainable development, since it is based on the assumption that the whole world and future generations can consume resources at the levels of the richest countries without provoking environmental collapse.”[3]

The inclusion of Dr. Herve Nordmann of Monsanto for example; on the expert panel Application of Risk Commission to Food Standards and Safety Matters Committee demonstrates the concerns raised by Korten and Petrini.

List of Experts on Application of Risk Communication to Food Standards and Safety Matters Consultation
Dr. Herve Nordmann Director, Regulatory Affairs, Europe, Africa and Middle East, Monsanto
Dr. Monique Astier-Dumas Vice President, Commission d'études des Produits Destinés à use Alimentation Particulière
Dr. Sassan Behjat Projects & Development Manager, International Health Department, Ministry of Health, Abu Dhabi
Dr. Dane Bernard Vice President for Food Safety Programs, National Food Processors Association
Dr. Michael Bolger , Head, Contaminants, Standards Monitoring and Programs Branch, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration
Dr. Christine M. Bruhn , Director, Centre of Consumer Research, University of California
Dr Lynn Frewer Head, Risk Perception and Communication Group, Institute of Food Research


The use of chemical companies’ such as BASF’s research as opposed to an independent body’s research has also been identified as a cause for concern by many critics of Codex Alimentarius.[5] The group called La Via Campesina, has also published information of the effects the policies put in place by the WHO and FAO have on the world's 800 million medium-sized and peasant farmers,[6]

Damage caused by the global food trade

The Codex Alimentarius Commission dictates the rules governing the global trade of food with the WTO as the ‘policeman’ that ensures these rules are abided by. Critics argue that questions need to be asked about whether these rules are good for us and the environment.

The Alliance for Natural Health for example believes the development of the global food trade in the last 30 years is neither good for our health, nor the environment. This fear has also been shared by La Via Campesina, who have published numerous reports on the effects of United Nations Food policies.

The system has few winners — the main ones being the transnational corporations being directly involved in the global production and trade of food and the pharmaceutical industry that profits from the increasing chronic disease burden that results.
One of the key characteristics of the contemporary global food trade is its simplicity and lack of diversity. The nutritional content and quality of foods is a low priority. Food hygiene as a means of controlling pathogens that cause food borne illness (a very real and persistent threat to health) is a key priority but methods for managing such pathogens, such as the use of irradiation or large quantities of preservatives, deplete the integrity and quality of the food. The increasing use of GMOs, which are endorsed by Codex, is a huge problem both in terms of the effects on human health, and the environment. [7]

Genetically Modified Food GMO

The acceptance of GMO foods and the promotion of the introduction of GM organisms into the ecosphere by the FAO and Codex Alimentarius [8]; either ignores or contradicts research of the agricultural sector. Arpad Pusztai, a leading lectins and plant genetic modification expert, was vilified and fired from his research position at Scotland's Rowett Research Institute for publishing industry-unfriendly data he was commissioned to produce on the safety of GMO foods. William Enghdahl’s book “Seeds of Destruction” reported:

”… ( Arpad Pusztai’s )Rowett Research study was the first ever independent one conducted on GMOs anywhere. He undertook it believing in their promise but became alarmed by his findings. The Clinton and Blair governments were determined to suppress them because Washington was spending billions promoting GMO crops and a future biotech revolution. It wasn't about to let even the world's foremost expert in the field derail the effort. His results were startling and consider the implications for humans eating genetically engineered foods.

Rats fed GMO potatoes had smaller livers, hearts, testicles and brains, damaged immune systems, and showed structural changes in their white blood cells making them more vulnerable to infection and disease compared to other rats fed non-GMO potatoes. It got worse. Thymus and spleen damage showed up; enlarged tissues, including the pancreas and intestines; and there were cases of liver atrophy as well as significant proliferation of stomach and intestines cells that could be a sign of greater future risk of cancer. Equally alarming - this all happened after 10 days of testing, and the changes persisted after 110 days that's the human equivalent of 10 years.[9] [10]

Labelling of GMO

The labelling of GMOs in our food chain is another cause for concern. The UK Food Standards Agency has the following policy on the labelling of GM foods:

the EU, if a food contains or consists of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or contains ingredients produced from GMOs, this must be indicated on the label. For GM products sold 'loose', information must be displayed immediately next to the food to indicate that it is GM.
  • On 18 April 2004, new rules for GM labelling came into force in all EU Member States.
  • The GM Food and Feed Regulation (EC) No. 1829/2003 lays down rules to cover all GM food and animal feed, regardless of the presence of any GM material in the final product.
  • This means products such as flour, oils and glucose syrups have to be labelled as GM if they are from a GM source.
  • Products produced with GM technology (cheese produced with GM enzymes, for example) do not have to be labelled.
  • Products such as meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GM animal feed also do not need to be labelled. Details on the labelling rules can be found on the table below.
  • Any intentional use of GM ingredients at any level must be labelled. However, the Food and Feed Regulation provides for a threshold for the adventitious, or accidental, presence of GM material in non-GM food or feed sources. This threshold is set at 0.9% and only applies to GMOs that have an EU authorisation. The temporary threshold of 0.5% for the presence of GM material not yet authorised, but that had a favourable assessment from an EU scientific committee, expired in April 2007. This means that such unauthorised GM material cannot be present at any level

Examples of labelling requirements under EC Regulation No. 1829/2003 for authorised GMOs (updated April 2008) [11]

Contamination of Non-GM Foods

One major issue is the cross-contamination of non GM foods by GM foods, which is dismissed as a major concern by Codex committees and the UN, despite volumes of evidence. Such contamination may lead to substantial legal costs to medium sized or peasant farmers.[12]

Organic Food

Codex Alimentarius has also drawn criticism for its Organic Foods Standards. Codex Organic Standards including:

  • ‘Dumbing-down’ of organic standards to suit interests of large food producers
  • Promotion of large-scale, high-input agriculture and international freight
  • Approval of various synthetic chemical additives and ‘processing aids’ in organic foods
  • No outright ban on use of irradiation post-production
  • Labelling allows use of hidden, non-organic ingredients



In the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1897 and 1911, a collection of standards and product descriptions for a wide variety of foods was developed as the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus. Although lacking legal force, it was used as a reference by the courts to determine standards of identity for specific foods. The present-day Codex Alimentarius draws its name from the Austrian code.[14] :

  • 1945 - FAO is founded, with responsibilities covering nutrition and associated international food standards
  • 1948 - WHO is founded, with responsibilities covering human health and, in particular, a mandate to establish food standards
  • 1949 - Argentina proposes a regional Latin American food code, Código Latino-Americano de Alimentos
  • 1950 - Joint FAO/WHO expert meetings begin on nutrition, food additives and related areas
  • 1953 - WHO's highest governing body, the World Health Assembly, states that the widening use of chemicals in the food industry presents a new public health problem that needs attention
  • 1954-1958 - Austria actively pursues the creation of a regional food code, the Codex Alimentarius Europaeus, or European Codex Alimentarius
  • 1960 - The first FAO Regional Conference for Europe endorses the desirability of international - as distinct from regional - agreement on minimum food standards and invites the Organization's Director-General to submit proposals for a joint FAO/WHO programme on food standards to the Conference of FAO
  • 1961 - The Council of the Codex Alimentarius Europaeus adopts a resolution proposing that its work on food standards be taken over by FAO and WHO
  • 1961 - With the support of WHO, the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Council of the Codex Alimentarius Europaeus, the FAO Conference establishes the Codex Alimentarius and resolves to create an international food standards programme
  • 1961 - The FAO Conference decides to establish a Codex Alimentarius Commission and requests an early endorsement by WHO of a joint FAO/WHO food standards programme
  • 1962 - The Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Conference requests the Codex Alimentarius Commission to implement a joint FAO/WHO food standards programme and to create the Codex Alimentarius
  • 1963 - Recognizing the importance of WHO's role in all health aspects of food and considering its mandate to establish food standards, the World Health Assembly approves establishment of the Joint FAO/WHO Programme on Food Standards and adopts the statutes of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. [15]


National Codex Contact Point
Food Standards Agency
115B Aviation House
125 Kingsway
London WC2B 6NH
Phone 1 +44 20 7276 8161
Fax 1 +44 20 7276 8376
E-mail 1
E-mail 2


  1. Welcome, Codex Alimentarius website, accessed 23 Sept 2009
  2. Korten, D, (1995)Guaranteeing Corporate Rights, Book excerpt,Third World Traveller Website, Accessed 14th December 2010
  3. Carlo Petrini, Special Edition: Identity and social relations in new rural communities, Slowfood Website, 18 Jul 2003, accessed 13 December 2010
  4. ANNEX 1(1999),FAO website accessed 26 November 2010
  5. BENTAZONE (172)(1995),FAO website accessed 26 November 2010
  6. OGM – Les impacts socio-économiques de la contamination(2010),La Via Campesina website, accessed 14 December 2010
  7. Damage caused by the global food trade,Alliance for Natural Health website, accessed 13 December 2010
  8. Shown Here
  9. Lendman. S (2008)Review of F. William Engdahl's Book, website , Accessed 14th December 2010.
  10. Research letters,Pusztai.A , Accessed 8th December 2010.
  11. GM Labelling(2008), Food Standards Agency, accessed 8 December 2010.
  12. GMO - Socio-economic impacts of the contamination(2010), La Via Campesina, accessed 8 December 2010.
  13. Codex AlimentariusAlliance for Natural Health Website, Accessed 14 December 2010
  14. Origins of the Codex Alimentarius, FAO website, accessed 20 November 2010
  15. Origins of the Codex Alimentarius, FAO website, accessed 20 November 2010.