FAO helping the consumer and protecting the environment through food quality control and plant protection:
Codex Alimentarius/ International Plant Protection Convention

Event objective

The objective of this session is to familiarize the audience with the purpose, structure, function and outputs of Codex Alimentarius and the International Plant Protection Convention. These two FAO bodies play an important role, internationally and nationally, in the establishment of regulatory frameworks for food safety and plant health.


An international policy and regulatory framework for food, agriculture, fisheries and forestry is an important prerequisite for achieving food security for all. There is also a growing need for national policy and regulatory frameworks that respond to domestic requirements and are consistent with the international policy and regulatory framework. There is also a strong trend, both internationally and nationally, towards integration of legal and regulatory frameworks between food safety and plant health as well as with animal health and the environment. This trend has been accelerated by the international agreements including the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

FAO has been actively promoting the integration of these frameworks to address food safety and plant health through a joint programme of information exchange and capacity building. The contributions of Codex Alimentarius and the IPPC are two of the main components of this integrated programme managed by FAO. The Office International des Epizooties (OIE) is responsible for establishing international standards relating to animal health.

Codex Alimentarius

The right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food is affirmed in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security of 1996. Safe and nutritious food of adequate quality to meet consumers' expectations is no longer a luxury of the rich but a right of all people.

Public awareness of food safety issues has increased dramatically, especially in developed countries. This awareness is derived from concerns over BSE or "Mad-Cow" disease (which has now made its appearance outside Europe), antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria in foods, dioxin contamination, outbreaks of food-borne illnesses due to microbial contamination and the finding that a genetically-modified maize approved only for animal feeding appeared in foods intended for human consumption. Coupled with the public awareness of food safety issues, international and domestic markets need to cope with the increasing demands for food that meets consumers' expectations in terms of quality and nutritional benefit. This changing situation means both challenges and opportunities for the food and agriculture sector.

Codex Alimentarius means "food code" and is the compilation of all the Standards, Codes of Practice, Guidelines and Recommendations of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Commission is the highest international body on food standards. The Commission is a subsidiary body of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Commission currently has 166 members, representing more than 95 percent of the world's population.

The use of scientific risk assessments as the basis for decision-making under these international legal instruments strengthens their use as the basis for decision-making within Codex. The scientific analysis of potential hazards has proved to be a firm basis for decision-making in the management of food safety risks. In the area of foods derived from biotechnology, Codex provides the human health risk analysis foreseen in the CBD's Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Scientific evidence is not sufficient in itself for the establishment of risk management measures; other legitimate factors need to be taken into account, but they need to be well documented and should not affect the scientific process. They should never be presented as an alternative to the scientific process.

Critical to the acceptance of governmental (and intergovernmental) decisions is the informed participation of all interested parties in the decision-making. This requires an additional effort in explaining the scientific basis of risk and safety assessments as well as the reasons for selecting the best risk management option from among those that are available. All other things being equal, the risk management option that provides the best access to safe and nutritious food is the preferred one.

Finally, food safety is a shared responsibility of developed and developing countries. With the increasing globalization of trade in food products, health requirements applied by importing countries must seek to protect consumers and not to raise technical barriers to trade.

FAO and WHO are currently evaluating the Codex Alimentarius Commission and other FAO and WHO work on food standards with a view strengthening the ability of the Commission to respond to Members' needs.

The International Plant Protection Convention

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is an international treaty for protecting plant health. The IPPC was adopted by the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) at its Sixth Session in 1951 although the current version of the Convention dates back to 1979. There are currently 118 contracting parties to the IPPC. The IPPC was amended in 1997, and the amendments will enter into force upon two-thirds acceptance by contracting parties.

The purpose of the IPPC is to secure common and effective action to prevent the spread and introduction of pests of plants and plant products and to promote appropriate measures for their control. The IPPC applies to protection of cultivated plants and plant products and to the protection of natural flora (and thus the environment). Its scope covers organisms that can cause both direct and indirect damage and thus includes weeds. Many components of the IPPC are directly related to elements of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Cartagena Protocol, including work on invasive species and genetically modified organisms. As a consequence, the CBD and IPPC are establishing a close collaborative relationship to ensure consistency.

The 1997 amendments to the IPPC included provision for a Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM) for the implementation of the objectives of the IPPC. However, until the 1997 revision of the Convention comes into force, the CPM is preceded by the Interim Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (ICPM). The ICPM develops and adopts International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs), serves as an international scientific and technical forum for reviewing plant protection issues and provides direction to the work programme of the IPPC Secretariat. The IPPC Secretariat implements the policies and activities of the CPM including standard setting, facilitating information exchange between contracting parties, and providing technical assistance.

The standard setting programme of the IPPC is one of the key activities of the ICPM and the Secretariat. ISPMs are intended to harmonize plant protection regulations applied in international movement of plants and plant products and provide guidance on protecting natural flora. Contracting parties to the IPPC have the obligation to exchange information among each other on pest status, regulations and requirements, pest listing, and non-compliance and emergencies. The IPPC is developing the Internet based International Phytosanitary Portal to facilitate these information exchange requirements.

Capacity Building

Developing countries are faced with two main challenges. Firstly, these countries must strive to meet the sanitary and phytosanitary requirements of importing countries in exporting agricultural products. However, the costs associated with ensuring food and agricultural products meet the required standards can be prohibitively expensive. Developing countries also face the challenge of making sure that the domestic food supply and imported agricultural products do not pose unacceptable risks to human, animal or plant life or health.

Developing countries must be able to understand, use and implement international standards if they are to gain from a global trading system and, at the same time, protect their own food supplies and agriculture from the accidental introduction and spread of pests or diseases. Assistance is required to improve regional and national systems including policy, legal and regulatory frameworks, institutional and infrastructure capacities, and adequately trained human resources of the national food safety systems, and animal and plant health services.

To this end, FAO is, where possible, integrating assistance to countries to improve their food safety and plant and animal health capacities. A recent example is the application of a comprehensive joint capacity evaluation used in Andean countries to evaluate capacities in the combined areas of food safety and animal and plant health. By using a more integrated approach, both FAO and countries can capitalize on synergies between the three core areas, and ensure a more comprehensive approach to capacity building. FAO is also seeking cooperation with the OIE, WTO, WHO, World Bank and UNDP to come to an integrated approach to capacity building both at the international and national level. This approach was recently expressed in the Doha declaration.



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