By Suzan Walter, M.B.A.
When you ask whether the "Proposed Draft of Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements" is going to be a set of optional Guidelines or a mandatory Codex international trade Standard you find people with very firm convictions supporting both options. And these divergent views are held by members of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses who are developing this important Codex text.
I thought it would be a fairly simple process to just check the official rules and regulations that govern the Codex Alimentarius and figure out who is right. After studying a number of Codex reports, I discovered that advisory Codex documents (referred to as texts) are not officially defined by Codex. Codex has accepted the WTO position of no differentiation between different categories of Codex texts. This indicates that the Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements text will be implemented as a Standard, despite being "labeled" as Guidelines.
Below I share with you a quick overview of what I found in Codex reports that supports these statements. For those interested in details, the actual reports are identified at the end of this screen, along with related quotes.
The first official Codex authority I studied was the Codex Alimentarius Procedural Manual, which provides extensive procedures for the creation of Standards. There are only a few references to advisory type texts, and none of these include a definition of advisory texts, how they are to be used, or how much clout they have.
Next I collected and reviewed a number of reports from the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) and various Codex Committees. These showed that until 1997 Codex Standards and other types of texts had been classified on the basis of whether or not the texts were intended to be subject to the Codex Acceptance Procedures. If a text was subject to the Acceptance Procedures, it was termed "mandatory." If not, it was viewed as an "advisory" text.
In the mid-90s the CAC signed the SPS and TBT Agreements with the World Trade Organization (WTO). These Agreements are significant because Codex develops standards that are used by the WTO to regulate international trade. As the terms of these Agreements were clarified it revealed that:
The first finding influenced the CAC to declare that their old approach of classifying texts by Codex Acceptance Procedures was confusing and not consistent with the provisions of the SPS and TBT Agreements and should no longer be used. They further decided that their development of a set of statements explaining the intent of different types of Codex texts was unnecessary. They would recognize the WTO approach, which views standards and advisory texts as the same.
Further indication of this can be found in the 1998 report of the Codex Committee on General Principles. When asked to clarify Guidelines (one type of advisory text), the Committee stated "There are two basic groups of Codex texts known as 'Guidelines'. Those in the first group expand upon, interpret or provide information of the application of other Codex standards or texts; those in the second group are in the form of standards and could be used as such."
I am still researching the official interpretations of the second statement. If the WTO is the enforcement body for Codex Standards, and WTO does not differentiate between the three Codex Acceptance options, this could significantly impact the sovereign rights of countries beyond what they have authorized.
The WTO clarification to Codex made a statement "...how a Codex text was applied depended on its substantive content rather than the category of that text." If the Codex Alimentarius Commission adopts this approach, then a text intended to be truly advisory might be designated for that purpose by including very specific language within the document.
With this in mind, I strongly encourage anyone on a committee drafting any form of Codex advisory text to be aware of the need to indicate the intended purpose, scope and implementation within the document. This is particularly important for the members of the Committee drafting the Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.
Suzan Walter, M.B.A. is co-founder and current president of the American Holistic Health Association, and served as president of the American Holistic Medical Foundation from 1988 - 1990. She is creator and webmaster of the Codex Information site codexinfo.org. Her private consulting practice specializes in health and wellness-related projects on the Internet. Suzan can be contacted at (714) 779-6152 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are listed the various Codex and WTO documents that were helpful in researching this subject. Where possible, an online source for the actual document or a summary is provided.
Sincere acknowledgement and appreciation to Alan Randell of the Codex Alimentarius Rome office for selecting and providing several relevant reports.
Additional documentation providing further clarification of this subject would be welcomed.
This page was last updated October 10, 2002.
CODEX ALIMENTARIUS PROCEDURAL MANUAL (English Version)
"Scope of the Codex Alimentarius
In Procedures for the Elaboration of Codex Standards and Related Texts section
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE CODEX ALIMENTARIUS COMMISSION,
The 22nd CAC Session had requested the WTO Committee on Samitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Committee) to clarify how the Committee would differentiate "standards, guidelines and other recommendations" in relation to the SPS Agreement by WTO Members. The WTO letter of response dated March 1998 included
CODEX COMMITTEE ON GENERAL PRINCIPLES
II. A. CURRENT STATUS OF CODEX STANDARDS AND RELATED TEXTS
II. B. PRIOR DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN "MANDATORY" AND "ADVISORY" TEXTS
V. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In summary report it was stated
REVISION OF THE ACCEPTANCE PROCEDURE
CODEX COMMITTEE ON GENERAL PRINCIPLES 14th Session,
"The problems related to the difference between standards and other texts in relation to the SPS Agreement have been clarified by the reply from the SPS Committee. There does not seem to be difficulties to extend this principle in the framework of the TBT Agreement. As in the case of the SPS Agreement there is no difference between the various categories of Codex texts involved; for the purpose of the TBT Agreement all Codex standards and related texts correspond to the TBT definition of 'standard'."
"...distinctions based on acceptance are not relevant in the framework of WTO."
As stated in summary of report:
Article 3: Harmonization
At a later date the following statement is found in a Committee report: