Food Safety: Codex Standards and Freer Trade

Bulletin of the World Health Organization, July-August 1994 | Go to article overview

Food Safety: Codex Standards and Freer Trade


The Final Act of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations -- launched by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1986 -- was signed by the Members on 15 April 1994. It comprises almost 30 agreements, two of which have a direct impact on health issues, and hence are of particular interest to ministries of health.

First, the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) modifies the GATT agreement which has existed since 1980 and makes it applicable to all GATT member countries. Second, the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) subjects already existing measures to more detailed rules. The basic provisions of this latter agreement are that any measures which may affect international trade must not be stricter than necessary for the protection of human, animal or plant health, must be based on scientific principles, and must not be maintained without sufficient scientific evidence.

International consensus on what is necessary and what is not necessary for the protection of human health in relation to food safety is reflected in the standards, guidelines, and other recommendations adopted by the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission. Stricter standards do not necessarily offer better health protection, but could be used as non-tariff barriers to trade. Therefore, with regard to food safety, the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures refers to the standards, guidelines, and recommendations established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission relating to food additives, veterinary drug and pesticide residues, contaminants, methods of analysing and sampling, and codes and guidelines of hygienic practice. …

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