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Codex Alimentarius

The Codex Alimentarius, or the food code, has become the seminal global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies and the international food trade.

Its influence extends to every continent, and its contribution to the protection of public health and fair practices in the food trade is immeasurable.

The Codex Alimentarius has relevance to the international food trade. With respect to the ever-increasing global market, in particular, the advantages of having universally uniform food standards for the protection of consumers are self-evident. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) both encourage the international harmonization of food standards

The Codex achievement:

  • ·         a single international reference point
  • ·         greater global and national awareness
  • ·         increased consumer protection
  • ·         broad community involvement

Trade concerns:

The different sets of standards arising from the spontaneous and independent development of food laws and standards by different countries inevitably gave rise to trade barriers that were of increasing concern to food traders in the early twentieth century.

Trade associations that were formed as a reaction to such barriers pressured governments to harmonize their various food standards so as to facilitate trade in safe foods of a defined quality.

Consumers' concerns:

In the 1940s, rapid progress was made in food science and technology. With the advent of more sensitive analytical tools, knowledge about the nature of food, its quality and associated health hazards also grew quickly. There was intense interest in food microbiology, food chemistry and associated disciplines, and new discoveries were considered newsworthy.

Despite the questionable quality of some of the information disseminated, however, the outcome was an increase  in the public's food consciousness and, consequently, knowledge about food safety gradually grew.

A "Format for Codex Commodity Standards and their Content" is provided by the General Principles of the Codex Alimentarius. It includes the following categories of information:

  • ·         Scope - including the name of the standard;
  • ·         Description, essential composition and quality factors - defining the minimum standard for the food;
  • ·         Food additives - only those cleared by FAO and WHO may be used;
  • ·         Contaminants;
  • ·         Hygiene and weights and measures;
  • ·         Labelling - in accordance with the Codex General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods;
  • ·         Methods of analysis and sampling.

In addition to commodity standards, the Codex Alimentarius includes general standards, which have across-the-board application to all foods and are not product-specific. There are general standards or recommendations for:

  • ·         food labelling;
  • ·         food additives;
  • ·         contaminants;
  • ·         methods of analysis and sampling;
  • ·         food hygiene;
  • ·         nutrition and foods for special dietary uses;
  • ·         food import and export inspection and certification systems;
  • ·         residues of veterinary drugs in foods;
  • ·         pesticide residues in foods.

Structure of the Codex Alimentarius

  • Volume 1A - General requirements
  • Volume 1B - General requirements (food hygiene)
  • Volume 2A - Pesticide residues in foods (general texts)
  • Volume 2B - Pesticide residues in foods (maximum residue limits)
  • Volume 3 - Residues of veterinary drugs in foods
  • Volume 4 - Foods for special dietary uses (including foods for infants and children)
  • Volume 5A - Processed and quick-frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Volume 5B - Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Volume 6 - Fruit juices
  • Volume 7 - Cereals, pulses (legumes) and derived products and vegetable proteins
  • Volume 8 - Fats and oils and related products
  • Volume 9 - Fish and fishery products
  • Volume 10 - Meat and meat products; soups and broths
  • Volume 11 - Sugars, cocoa products and chocolate and miscellaneous products
  • Volume 12 - Milk and milk products
  • Volume 13 - Methods of analysis and sampling


General Subject Committees

  • ·         Committee on General Principles, hosted by France
  • ·         Committee on Food Labelling, hosted by Canada
  • ·         Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling, hosted by Hungary
  • ·         Committee on Food Hygiene, hosted by the United States
  • ·         Committee on Pesticide Residues, hosted by the Netherlands
  • ·         Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants, hosted by the Netherlands
  • ·         Committee on Import/Export Inspection and Certification Systems, hosted by Australia
  • ·         Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses, hosted by Germany (a General Committee for the purpose of Nutrition)
  • ·         Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Food, hosted by the United States
  • ·         Committee on Fats and Oils, hosted by the United Kingdom
  • ·         Committee on Fish and Fishery Products, hosted by Norway
  • ·         Committee on Milk and Milk Products (formerly the FAO/WHO Committee of Government Experts on the Code of Principles for Milk and Milk Products), hosted by New Zealand
  • ·         Committee on Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, hosted by Mexico
  • ·         Committee on Cocoa Products and Chocolate, hosted by Switzerland
  • ·         Committee on Sugars, hosted by the United Kingdom
  • ·         Committee on Processed Fruits and Vegetables, hosted by the United States
  • ·         Committee on Vegetable Proteins, hosted by Canada
  • ·         Committee on Cereals, Pulses and Legumes, hosted by the United States
  • ·         Committee on Processed Meat and Poultry Products, hosted by Denmark
  • ·         Committee on Soups and Broths, hosted by Switzerland
  • ·         Committee on Meat Hygiene, hosted by New Zealand
  • ·         Committee on Natural Mineral Waters, hosted by Switzerland


The work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission goes beyond creating means of removing barriers to trade. It also includes encouraging food traders to adopt voluntarily ethical practices as an important way of protecting consumers' health and promoting fair practices in the food trade. To this end, the Commission has published the Code of Ethics for International Trade in Food, which is included in the Codex Alimentarius.

A principal objective of the Code of Ethics is to stop exporting countries and exporters from dumping poor-quality or unsafe food on to international markets. The code is currently being updated to reflect the impact of the SPS, the TBT and other agreements on international trade.


The Uruguay Round Agreements provide for groups of member countries to enter into trade agreements among themselves for the purpose of liberalizing trade. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the United States and Mexico is such an agreement. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay have signed the Treaty of Acunción establishing the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR). In Asia and the Pacific, 18 countries have formalized economic cooperation arrangements under the title, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Council.

NAFTA includes two ancillary agreements dealing with sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade. With regard to SPS measures, Codex standards are cited as basic requirements to be met by the three member countries in terms of the health and safety aspects of food products.

MERCOSUR's Food Commission has recommended a range of Codex standards for adoption by member countries and is using other Codex standards as points of reference in continuing deliberations.

APEC has drafted a Mutual Recognition Arrangement on Conformity Assessment of Foods and Food Products. This calls for consistency with SPS and TBT requirements as well as with Codex standards, including the recommendations of the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Certification Systems.

EU directives frequently refer to the Codex Alimentarius as the basis for their requirements.

Source: www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/

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