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Sanitary and phytosanitary measures

Sanitary (human and animal health) and phytosanitary (plant health) measures apply to domestically produced food or local animal and plant diseases, as well as to products coming from other countries. These sanitary and phytosanitary measures can take many forms, such as requiring products to come from a disease-free area, inspection of products, specific treatment or processing of products, setting allowable maximum levels of pesticide residues or limiting the permitted use of additives in food. All countries maintain measures to ensure that food is safe for consumers, and to prevent the spread of pests or diseases among animals and plants.

Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures

This Agreement concerns the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures — in other words food safety and animal and plant health regulations. The agreement recognizes that governments have the right to take sanitary and phytosanitary measures but that they should be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health and should not arbitrarily or unjustifiably dis-criminate between Members where identical or similar conditions prevail. The level of sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures shall be based on scientific evidence.

In order to harmonize sanitary and phytosanitary measures, Members are encouraged to base their measures on international standards, guidelines and recommendations where they exist. However, Mem-bers may maintain or introduce measures which result in higher standards if there is scientific justification or as a consequence of consistent risk decisions based on an appropriate risk assessment. The Agree-ment spells out procedures and criteria for the assessment of risk and the determination of appropriate levels of sanitary or phytosanitary protection.

It is expected that Members would accept the sanitary and phytosanitary measures of others as equivalent if the exporting country demonstrates to the importing country that its measures achieve the importing country’s appropriate level of health protection. The agreement includes provisions on control, inspection and approval procedures.

The SPS Committee’s job is to monitor how countries are applying the SPS Agreement and to dis-cuss issues that arise from that.

The SPS Agreement requires that measures either have to be based on scientific evidence of risk, or on recognized international standards (see above). If a country applies international standards, it is less likely to be challenged legally in the WTO than if it sets its own standards.

Cooperation of the WTO with international and non-governmental organizations

“Desiring to further the use of harmonized sanitary and phytosanitary measures between Members, on the basis of international standards, guidelines and recommendations developed by the relevant inter-national organizations, including the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the International Office of Epizootics, and the relevant international and regional organizations operating within the framework of the International Plant Protection Convention, without requiring Members to change their appropriate level of protection of human, animal or plant life or health” (Preamble to the SPS Agreement)

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was created in 1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) with a view to the development of standards, guidelines and other documents, such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO / WHO Food Standards Programme. The main objective of this program is to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair trade practices in the food trade, coordination of work on the development of food standards undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) was established in 1924, and named as the International Office of Epizootics. In May 2003 the Office became the World Organization for Animal Health but kept its historical acronym OIE. The OIE founders would like to implement an international agreement that could give them the opportunity to try to put together an end to epizooties (infectious animal diseases), that destroyed their livestock, and find understanding in those countries experiencing outbreaks of animal diseases and in case of emergency health events to receive information from these countries and have thus a timely opportunity to take appropriate action. These countries would also have information about the most effective ways to control the most dangerous animal diseases. Until today the goal of sanitary and scientific information in the veterinary field remains a priority.

The main mission of OIE is to improve the health and animal welfare throughout the world regardless of the cultural customs or economic situation in member countries. OIE is financed by annual contribu-tions from members and donations.

International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is an international treaty whose objective is to ensure a common and effective action to prevent the spread and penetration of pests of plants and plant products and to promote appropriate measures for pest control. National and regional plant protection organizations work together in helping the signatories to fulfill their obligations to the IPPC.

The IPPC extends to the protection of natural flora and plant products, including both direct and indi-rect damage by pests, including weeds. The IPPC provisions cover transportation, containers, storage places, soil and other objects or materials that are a haven for pests.

To assist countries in assessing the needs of their national plant protection organizations in the phy-tosanitary system the capacity evaluation mechanism (РСЕ) was developed. The primary function of PCE is to serve as a diagnostic tool in the evaluation of the difference between the present situation and what is needed to meet the requirements of International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPM), which are developed or revised at the suggestion of the countries concerned or the relevant committees and approved by the Commission on Phytosanitary measures. ISPM standards are available on the website of the IPPC.