Since the first steps were taken in 1961 to establish a Codex Alimentarius, the Codex Alimentarius Commission - the body charged with developing a food code - has drawn world attention to the field of food quality and safety. During the past three decades or more, all important aspects of food pertaining to the protection of consumer health and fair practices in the food trade have come under the Commission's scrutiny. In the best traditions of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), as part of its persistent endeavours to develop the Codex Alimentarius the Commission has encouraged food-related scientific and technological research as well as discussion. In doing so, it has lifted the world community's awareness of food safety and related issues to unprecedented heights and has consequently become the single most important international reference point for developments associated with food standards.
Throughout much of the world, an increasing number of consumers and most governments are becoming aware of food quality and safety issues and are realizing the need to be selective about the foods people eat. It is now common for consumers to demand that their governments take legislative action to ensure that only safe food of acceptable quality is sold and that the risk of food-borne health hazards is minimized. It is fair to say that, through its elaboration of Codex standards and its consideration of all related issues, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has helped significantly to put food as an entity on political agendas. In fact, governments are extremely conscious of the political consequences to be expected should they fail to heed consumers' concerns regarding the food they eat.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission has been supported in its work by the now universally accepted maxim that people have the right to expect their food to be safe, of good quality and suitable for consumption. Food-borne illnesses are at best unpleasant - at worst they can be fatal. But there are other consequences. Outbreaks of food-borne illness can damage trade and tourism and can lead
to loss of earnings, unemployment and litigation. Poor-quality food can destroy the commercial credibility of suppliers, both nationally and internationally, while food spoilage is wasteful and costly and can adversely affect trade and consumer confidence.
The positive effect of the Commission's work has also been enhanced by the declarations produced by international conferences and meetings which have, themselves, been influenced by the Commission's activities. In recent years, national representatives to the United Nations General Assembly, the FAO/WHO Conference on Food Standards, Chemicals in Food and Food Trade (held in cooperation with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), the FAO/WHO International Conference on Nutrition and the FAO World Food Summit have either encouraged or committed their countries to adopt measures ensuring the safety and quality of foods.
FOSTERING CONSUMER PROTECTION WORLDWIDE
The role of the Codex Alimentarius Commission has evolved with development of the Codex itself. The task of creating a food code is immense and, because of continuing research and product development, virtually endless. The finalization of food standards and their compilation into a code that is credible and authoritative requires extensive consultation as well as the collection and evaluation of information, followed up by confirmation of final results and sometimes objective compromise to satisfy differing sound, scientifically based views.
Creating standards that at once protect consumers, ensure fair practices in the sale of food and facilitate trade is a process that involves specialists in numerous food-related scientific disciplines, together with consumers' organizations, production and processing industries, food control administrators and traders. As more people become involved in the formulation of standards and as the Codex Alimentarius - including related codes and recommendations - covers further ground, so the Commission's activities are becoming better known and its influence strengthened and widened.
Codex Alimentarius - what it comprises
- Food standards for commodities (237)
While the Codex Alimentarius as it stands is a remarkable achievement, it would be quite wrong to see it as the only product of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, although it is the most important. Resulting from the creation of the Codex, another major accomplishment has been to sensitize the global community to the danger of food hazards as well as to the importance of food quality and hence to the need for food standards. By providing an international focal point and forum for informed dialogue on issues relevant to food, the Codex Alimentarius Commission fulfils a crucial role. In support of its work on food standards and codes of practice, it generates reputable scientific texts, convenes numerous expert committees and consultations as well as international meetings attended by the best-informed individuals and organizations concerned with food and related fields. Countries have responded by introducing long-overdue food legislation and Codex-based standards and by establishing or strengthening food control agencies to monitor compliance with such regulations.
The Codex Alimentarius now has such a well-established reputation as an international reference that it has become customary for health authorities, government food control officials, manufacturers, scientists and consumer advocates to ask first of all: What does the Codex Alimentarius have to say? - a notable achievement indeed.