Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Codex Alimentarius in Latin means food code which has its origin in 1873 in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire which had evolved it as a specific set of guidelines by which the courts could rule on cases dealing with food. The code was effectively implemented till the fall of the Empire in 1918. It was in 1962 this was revived under the UNO and Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) was created with two third funding coming from World Health Organization (WHO) and the rest shared by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). CAC standards cover all raw, semi processed and fully processed foods and over 200 food standards have been codified so far. It also covers food labeling, food hygiene, food additives, pesticide residues and procedures for safety assessment. Guidelines for import, export and certification system are also laid down for universal adoption. In its first 20 years of existence CAC compiled hundreds of definitions of food stuffs and additives in 120 member countries.
Though harmonization of all national standards with those of CAC is a desirable development for a smooth global trade regime, there are many criticisms against this body for being pro- industry and pro-rich countries, ignoring the realities that exist in many less developed countries. Most controversial issue now being discussed is about fortification of foods with vitamin and food supplements which some consider as drugs while many others feel they are part of foods requiring no separate treatment. Pharmaceutical industry with many multinational giants leading the pack seems to have great influence on CAC on this issue and with rich nations on their side the outcome of CAC can be disadvantageous to the poorer countries. There are grave allegations that some of the critics of CAC like South Africa, Swaziland, Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, Cameroon, Sudan, Nigeria etc are finding it difficult o attend CAC meetings, presently being chaired by USA. A lopsided agenda and any system of global quality and safety standards not based on consensus cannot be forced on the world by a few powerful countries to maintain their monopoly on trading in foods.
There are grave apprehensions that if some of the CAC standards become mandatory, as being proposed by December 31, 2009 under WTO, the trade interests of many countries may be adversely affected. To day WTO is using CAC standards for dispute resolution as international reference standards. If exporting countries do not follow mandatory CAC standards, WTO has the power to impose sanctions against them which will have debilitating effect on global trade. Is the world moving towards a regime where every food including water will be controlled by Codex and the maxim that he who controls food will control the entire world will be a reality?
As for India the repercussions for its exports can be catastrophic if we lower our guards against unjust technical barriers which should be fought tooth and nail at the appropriate forums. Effective technical interventions are possible only if the country takes up this challenge by creating a brain trust consisting of top experts experienced in food related technical matters to provide the necessary inputs to fight attempts by the dominating nations, that try to control CAC.        

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