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Is Codex doing enough?

24-Sep-2004

Codex Alimentarius fails consumer organisations, claims a leading consumer group, but ongoing Codex action and work accomplished suggests the UN-backed body is doing much good for food safety and trade.

Just 32 out of 211 consumer organisations responded to a survey from Consumers International (CI), from which CI concludes that national Codex consultations are influenced by industry lobbyists more than consumer representatives.

"Our main concern is that the voice of consumer groups is not heard," a spokesperson for the UK-based group told FoodNavigator.com.

"Increasing consumer input to Codex does not necessarily translate into real opportunities to influence government policy," said CI.

Supported by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation, Codex Alimentarius was formed in 1963 to develop food standards that at once protect consumers, ensure fair practices in the sale of food and facilitate trade.

While the consumer groups claim that it is failing them, others show strong support for the body.

"One real criticism of Codex is the inordinate amount of time it takes to bring a standard about, but I don't think you can blame Codex that only a small number of consumer organisations appear at meetings," food lawyer Raymond O'Rourke told FoodNavigator.com.

"If there are differences at a national consultation level - money, tradition, infrastucture - is that the fault of Codex?" he asks.

The CI survey findings that 75 per cent of respondents are sent Codex papers only one week before meetings is matched by an assertion that the Codex procedure to a food standard - with seven levels - is exceptionally slow and there is sufficient time to acquire all relevant documentation.

The Codex website aims to prop up transparency, providing online up to date information. Indeed the CI survey found that 67 per cent of respondents obtain their documents from it.

Defenders of Codex say it has played, and still plays, a crucial role in providing an administrative back-up on food standards for developing countries, notably for ministries implementing from a zero base a framework for food safety law.

Risk analysis is on the table this week at a meeting in Bratislava of CCEURO, the Codex Regional Co-ordinating Committee for Europe.

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