Relocation of U.S. Codex Office Makes Sense

Food companies and industry trade associations have overwhelmingly supported a decision by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to move the U.S. Codex Office from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to the Office of the Undersecretary for Trade and Agricultural Affairs led by Ted McKinney. 

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) is a United Nations standards-setting body working under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization (WHO).  The official mission of the Codex is to protect consumers’ health and ensure fair practices in the food trade.  Codex standards are often relied upon by the international food trade to set a level, competitive playing field, and many countries incorporate Codex standards into their national laws.

Since 1994, Codex food safety standards have had far-reaching implications for settling trade disputes over unjustified trade barriers disguised as national food regulatory requirements.  Under the WTO’s Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures, nations that wish to apply stricter measures than those set by Codex are required to justify those measures scientifically.  Not surprisingly, trade disputes have long been intertwined with the Codex standard-setting process.   

Last year, Secretary Perdue announced the creation of the Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs position. While reviewing options for improving coordination on trade and international activities, Secretary Perdue determined that the U.S. Codex Office should be moved to the new trade mission area. The U.S. Codex Office mission remains the same.  The U.S. government delegation will continue to work with our international partners ensuring Codex standards are grounded in science.

Food companies and trade associations should take a fresh look at the agendas of key Codex Committees to examine whether the U.S. government positions on specific points are appropriate and science-based.  The U.S. Codex Office regularly announces public meetings, held in the Washington, D.C. area, to formulate the position that the U.S. government will take at Codex meetings held in the U.S. and overseas.  Participants can offer their views in written or oral form, and speak directly with leading U.S. government officials that will attend official Codex meetings.

Coming up on March 15, 2018, is a U.S. government preparation session for the forthcoming meeting of the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues.  Next, on April 4, 2018, is a U.S. government preparation session for the forthcoming meeting of the Codex Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Foods.  Other open meetings will follow later this year.

The relocation of the U.S. Codex Office within USDA to the new office for the Undersecretary for Trade and Agricultural Affairs should help ensure the U.S. commitment to the important role Codex has to the global food safety standards and maintaining a leadership role in their development.  Its housing within Trade and Agricultural Affairs should  also facilitate ongoing dialogue and understanding about food regulatory matters domestically and worldwide.

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