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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. Now, for almost 50 years, 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.

Codex Alimentarius on the Internet:


The best traditions of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have encouraged food-related scientific and technological research as well as discussion. In doing so, they have lifted the world community’s awareness of food safety and related issues to unprecedented heights. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, established by the two Organizations in the 1960s, has 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 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 that have, themselves, been influenced by the Commission’s activities. Over the past 20 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 [GATT]), the FAO/WHO International Conference on Nutrition, the FAO World Food Summit and the WHO World Health Assembly have either encouraged or committed their countries to adopt measures ensuring the safety and quality of foods. The Global Fora of Food Safety Regulators have noted that the Codex system provides an important opportunity for countries to work together to develop international standards in a representative manner.

Fostering consumer protection worldwide


United Nations General Assembly
Guidelines for consumer protection

Stated 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 Food and Agriculture Organization’s... and the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius...”.


FAO/WHO Conference on Food Standards, Chemicals in Food and Food Trade (in cooperation with GATT)

Agreed that:

...“The process of harmonizing national food regulations to bring them into line with international standards and recommendations was an urgent one, which needed to be accelerated...”

and that:

“Provisions essential for consumer protection (health, safety of food, etc.) should be the focus of emphasis in Codex standards...”.


FAO/WHO International Conference on Nutrition

Recognized that:

“Access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is a right of each individual.”

and that:

“Food regulations... should fully take into account the recommended international standards of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.”


Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade

Formally recognized:

International standards, guidelines and recommendations, including the Codex Alimentarius, as reference points for facilitating international trade and resolving trade disputes in international law.


FAO World Food Summit

Committed itself to:

“Implement policies aimed at... improving physical and economic access by all, at all times, to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe food and its effective utilization.”

and to:

“Apply measures, in conformity with the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and other relevant international agreements, that ensure the quality and safety of food supply... “.


Fifty-Third World Health Assembly


“The importance of the standards, guidelines and other recommendations of the Codex Alimentarius Commission for protecting the health of consumers and assuring fair trading practices...”

and urged Member States to:

“Participate actively in activities in the emerging area of food safety risk analysis.”


World Food Summit: five years later


“We reaffirm the important role of Codex Alimentarius ... to provide effective, science-based, internationally accepted standards of food safety ... as well as to facilitate international food and agricultural trade.”


Second FAO/WHO Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators


“The Codex system provides an important opportunity for countries to work together to develop international standards in a representative manner. ... Developing countries would benefit from greater use of basic Codex texts when building their food control systems.”


The role of the Codex Alimentarius Commission has evolved with the 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.


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 texts for the management of food safety and consumer protection based on the work of 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.


After 40 years of Codex operations, FAO and WHO decided to undertake a formal evaluation of the Codex programme in 2002. An independent evaluation team conducted over 20 country visits and sought information from an open call for public comment on the Internet. A group of independent experts representing all stakeholders was formed, and detailed questionnaires were sent to all member governments and observer organizations.

The results were enlightening and mostly positive. The evaluation found Codex food standards to be given very high importance by members. Codex standards were considered a vital component in promoting food control systems designed to protect consumer health, including issues related to international trade and the SPS and TBT Agreements of WTO. The full report of the evaluation can be found on the Codex Web site.

As part of the evaluation, governments were asked in what ways Codex standards were important for their countries. Low-and middle-income countries found them very important in protecting the health of their consumers by ensuring safe food, whether produced domestically or imported, and for trade facilitation domestically and internationally. High-income countries, with better-developed domestic food legislation and control systems, placed more emphasis on the Codex for export facilitation and ensuring the safety of food imports. Producer and consumer non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also rated Codex standards as very important in all their functions.

Nevertheless, the evaluation found that there were four main areas for improvement:

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, FAO, WHO and their partners are currently implementing the findings of the evaluation.

The evaluation confirmed that 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.

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