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The Codex Alimentarius, or the food code, has become the global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies and the international food trade. The code has had an enormous impact on the thinking of food producers and processors as well as on the awareness of the end users - the consumers. 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 system presents a unique opportunity for all countries to join the international community in formulating and harmonizing food standards and ensuring their global implementation. It also allows them a role in the development of codes governing hygienic processing practices and recommendations relating to compliance with those standards.

The significance of the food code for consumer health protection was underscored in 1985 by the United Nations Resolution 39/248, whereby guidelines were adopted for use in the elaboration and reinforcement of consumer protection policies. The guidelines advise that “When formulating national policies and plans with regard to food, Governments should take into account the need of all consumers for food security and should support and, as far as possible, adopt standards from the ... Codex Alimentarius or, in their absence, other generally accepted international food standards”.

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 Agreement) and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) both encourage the international harmonization of food standards. Products of the Uruguay Round of multinational trade negotiations, these Agreements cite international standards, guidelines and recommendations as the preferred measures for facilitating international trade in food. As such, Codex standards have become the benchmarks against which national food measures and regulations are evaluated within the legal parameters of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreements.

This booklet was first published in 1999 to foster a wider understanding of the evolving food code and of the activities carried out by the Codex Alimentarius Commission - the body responsible for compiling the standards, codes of practice, guidelines and recommendations that constitute the Codex Alimentarius. Since the first publication there have been many changes to the way in which the Codex works. A new edition of this popular booklet is therefore timely and necessary for understanding the Codex Alimentarius in the twenty-.first century.

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