Introduction to Codex

Codex plays a pivotal role in developing international standards for health protection and ensuring fair practices in food trade.

The term ‘Codex’ refers to the outputs and activities of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). Codex was founded in 1963 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), as part of a Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme.

What Codex does

Codex has established a large body of international standards and related texts for use by member countries for consumer health protection and international trade. This compilation of standards is called the Codex Alimentarius (Latin for ‘food code’).

The outputs of Codex include:

  • standards for individual commodities, for example, milk, meat, fruit and vegetables
  • maximum limits for residues of pesticides and veterinary drugs in food
  • standards and guidelines for food hygiene, nutrition and labelling
  • guidelines for design and operation of import and export inspection and certification systems

Codex also provides an important forum for discussion of contemporary and emerging food safety issues.

You can find out more information about Codex by downloading an introduction prepared by the WHO. Choose Understanding Codex under the About Codex menu on the home page of the Codex Alimentarius website.

Codex Alimentarius (External website)

Codex strategic plan

The Codex Strategic Plan for 2008-2013 articulates the core strategic priorities for the organisation and provides a sound basis for the development of its w ork programme. If you search for ‘Codex Strategic Plan’ on the FAO website, you can download it as a PDF.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (External website)

How Codex works

The work of Codex is carried out by subsidiary bodies grouped into:

  • commodity committees
  • general subject committees
  • ad hoc task forces
  • regional coordinating committees.

The Executive Committee, comprising the Chair, 3 vice chairs, 6 regional coordinators and 7 regional representatives, serves as a strategic and standards management body. The Commission is the final decision-making body within the Codex system and generally meets once a year to adopt international standards.

Belonging to Codex

Membership of Codex has been growing steadily in recent years and is close to190 members. The participation of developing countries has continued to grow and now represents a majority of the membership of the organisation.

You can find out more about Codex membership and activities on the CAC website.

Codex and the World Trade Organisation (WTO)

As one of the three recognised international standards-setting bodies, Codex is critical to advancing the objectives of two WTO agreements:

  • the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS)
  • the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT).

These Agreements are mutually reinforcing and provide a strong framework of rules and disciplines for technical standards and regulations at national and international levels.

World Trade Organisation (External website)