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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:
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.
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:
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:
Structure of the Codex Alimentarius
General Subject Committees
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.
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