Select Committee on European Scrutiny Ninth Report


COM(01) 287

Draft Council Decision on the accession of the European Community to the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Legal base: Articles 37, 95, 133 and 152(4) in conjunction with Article 300(3) EC; co-decision and consultation; qualified majority voting
Department: Health
Basis of consideration: Letter of 27 November 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 20 (18 July 2001)
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  16.1  The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an intergovernmental body, jointly sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), to develop international food standards which aim to protect consumer health and promote fair practices in the food trade. All Community Member States are among the 160 countries which are members of Codex, but, whilst recognised international organisations are also free to attend as observers, they may not vote. As a consequence, the Community — represented by the Commission — is currently confined to observer status, and, where a consolidated Community line is agreed at meetings, this is usually presented by the Presidency. Notwithstanding this, the Community as a member of FAO (but not WHO) has a legal entitlement to apply for membership of Codex, and, following a Council Decision in 1993 authorising the Commission to negotiate the conditions for Community accession, the current document constitutes a proposal from the Commission for a Council Decision that the Community should exercise that right.

  16.2  In her Explanatory Memorandum of 5 July 2001, the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper) said that, if Community membership was agreed, it would result in the Commission speaking and voting on behalf of the Community on all issues of exclusive Community competence arising in Codex. Similarly, the Commission would also speak and vote on issues of mixed competence where the preponderance of competence lay with the Community (though Member States would also be able to intervene after due coordination) to support and develop the Community line. Member States would be able to speak and vote on issues of mixed competence where the preponderance of competence lay with them, as well as on issues within areas of exclusive Member State competence. She also said that, whilst consultation with interested parties was being prepared, informal discussions had indicated that consumer groups had some concerns that Community membership of Codex might result in the consumer voice having less influence.

  16.3  In our Report of 18 July 2001, we said that, although this proposal at first sight appeared logical, we would be interested to know whether the Government's formal consultation confirmed the fears voiced informally by consumer organisations, and, if so, whether the Government considered these to be justified. Also, we said it would be helpful to know whether the Minister had any concerns on subsidiarity grounds over the division of competence described above. In the meantime, we were not clearing the document.

Letter of 27 November 2001

  16.4  We have now received a letter of 27 November 2001 from the Office of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health (Ms Hazel Blears) on these two points.

  16.5  On the views of consumer groups, it says that the response of consumer groups was that UK consumers would have less influence if the Community were to accede to the Codex, but that they also accept that most of the work of the Codex is in areas covered by Community legislation, and that it is in Brussels where it is important for consumers to have an input. It adds that the growing importance of Codex in international trade requires consistency between Community legislation and Codex standards, but that the retention in this area of an independent voice by Member States is not inconsistent with Community obligations.

  16.6  On the question of subsidiarity and competence, the letter says that, since food regulation is increasingly harmonised at Community level (and that process will largely be completed by the current proposal[44] for a General Food Law Regulation), the Government does not consider that this proposal raises subsidiarity concerns. It wishes to see the Community participate fully in Codex, and says that progress is being made in securing a Community co-ordination process which would allow Member States to retain speaking rights. It adds that the rules of procedure relating to the membership of Codex by regional economic bodies are to be considered again by the Codex Committee on General Principles in April 2002, and that the Government will undertake further consultation prior to that, so that consumers can consider the updated position, including recent reassurances from the Commission on the procedure for co-ordination of common positions and the right of Member States to speak at Codex meetings.


  16.7  Although the Government's original Explanatory Memorandum of 5 July 2001 implied that the concerns over influence related to consumers generally rather than simply to those in the UK, we have noted the views expressed in the consultation exercise. We have also noted the present position on subsidiarity, and, as a result, we are now clearing the document.

44   (21886) 14174/01; see HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 1 (14 March 2001) Back

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