Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Colleagues,
It is a privilege to speak at this meeting today about the 100th anniversary of the Austrian codex, the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus, and about its eventual relevance to our worldwide Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Endeavours in Austria to create uniform principles for testing and evaluation of foodstuffs date back to the year 1891. On the occasion of an “International Exhibition for Foods and Household Needs from the Hygienic Point of View”, organized in Vienna, food chemists and microscopians met and decided to create a “Scientific Commission for Establishing a Codex Alimentarius Austriacus”. The first meeting of this Commission and birthday of Codex was on 13 October, 1891. It was actually a purely private initiative reflecting the concern for the fact that the establishment of an Austrian Food Law did not proceed well at that time. Other countries had already food laws, Italy since 1860, Germany 1879, France 1885, not to speak of England, where comparable regulations had existed long before.
The actual development of the Austrian Food Law lasted from 1880 to 1896. The concept of codex and the base it provided speeded up that development and the work of codex was already acknowledged with gratitude by the government after 2 years, in 1893. After 7 years 21 chapters were finished, they included subjects like “fats and oils”, “bread”, “milk” “cheese”, “meat and meat products”, “cereals”.
Basic concepts for definitions of “deception”, “adulteration”, “hazard to human health” were laid down at that time. If one takes into consideration the resolutions of the last food conference (FAO/WHO Conference on Food Standards, Rome, 18–27 March, 1991) one may judge how prudently and foresightedly the first works at the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus started.
It may be noteworthy that by the very strict and puristic semantic criteria of the late 19th century the chosen term “codex” was criticized; in a debate in parliament it was said that codex means something final, while this codex alimentarius had to be flexible, adapting not only to new products but also to constantly improving analytical methods.
In 1907 the commission, having worked on a private basis up to that time, became an official one.
It must be emphasized especially that the individual chapters were compiled under consideration of every group which might have been interested in the subject. This means that the work was done entirely on a cooperative basis. The records of this time show clearly that guidelines and principles for foods were elaborated in the legitimate interests of the consumers without neglecting producer or trade interests. Care was taken to consider also regional conditions and traditions which were sometimes quite different from one another in the multinational Central European community of that time.
After publication of the first edition of the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus in the year 1910 the commission did not dissolve but continued work for supplementing and modernizing with respect to the development of technology and the rapid change of production conditions.
Codex continued to serve its purpose well also after 1918, not only in Austria itself, but also in the other newly founded states of Central Europe, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia. In Austria up to 1938 a second edition of codex was published with 48 chapters.
Although being an official commission it was not embodied in the Food Law formally before its amendment 1950. Federal Minister Frenzel was the pushing force of this development and presided the commission later on. The composition of this commission as defined by the law strongly reflects the principle of what we call in Austria “social partnership”; agricultural and industrial producers are equally represented as trade unions, employees and the national consumer organization. Other members are the ministries and scientists.
For understandable reasons a strong desire for international cooperation and partnership emerged after the war and contributed to the concept of an international codex. In 1953 at a meeting of food scientists in the FRG Austria's Minister Frenzel for the first time presented the idea of a European codex. The name Codex Alimentarius Europaeus was stimulating indeed, discussions continued at many meetings, in particular in Berne in 1954, in Amsterdam 1956, in Mainz 1957 and finally in 1958 in Paris, where 15 countries were invited by the French Ministry of Agriculture and the Commission Internationale des Industries Agricole and Frenzel was elected 1st president of the European Council of the Codex Alimentarius. The first session of this Council took place on 12 June 1958 in Vienna. In the following years the number of countries participating increased to 21. It should be mentioned that Poland was a very active member contributing to improved contacts between East and West. It should also be mentioned that at those sessions representatives of FAO and WHO were present.
With all due respect for the successful work of the European codex it became clear soon that efforts for cooperation in the food sector should not be restricted to one continent. Members of the European codex and representatives of FAO and WHO entered into discussions with the result that the two UN organizations established an international body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The founding conference took place in Geneva in October 1962 with 40 countries participating.
I come to the end now because as far as Codex history since 1962 is concerned some of you will know much more than I do. In any case, the term Codex Alimentarius still symbolizes what it was meant to be at its beginning 100 years ago, namely cooperation of experts and flexibility to changes in technology and to scientific progress.