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The first Statement of Principle Concerning the Role of Science in the Codex Decision-Making Process and the Extent to Which Other Factors are Taken into Account says, “The food standards, guidelines and other recommendations of the Codex Alimentarius shall be based on the principle of sound scientific analysis ...”.

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From the very beginning, the Codex Alimentarius has been a science-based activity. Experts and specialists in a wide range of disciplines have contributed to every aspect of the code to ensure that its standards withstand the most rigorous scientific scrutiny. It is fair to say that the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, together with that of FAO and WHO in their supportive roles, has provided a focal point for food-related scientific research and investigation, and the Commission itself has become an important international medium for the exchange of scientific information about food.

In 1995, the Commission adopted four Statements of Principle Concerning the Role of Science in the Codex Decision-Making Process and the Extent to Which Other Factors are Taken into Account. These principles were supplemented by Statements of Principle Relating to the Role of Food Safety Risk Assessment (1997) and by Criteria for the Consideration of the Other Factors Referred to in the Second Statement of Principle (2001).

A comprehensive statement of Working Principles for Risk Analysis in food safety and health was adopted by the Commission in 2003 and incorporated into the Procedural Manual of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.


The Codex Alimentarius has stimulated activity in the fields of food chemistry, food technology, food microbiology, mycology, and pesticide and veterinary drug residues. Much work is carried out in the form of collaborative studies among individual scientists, laboratories, institutes and universities and joint FAO/WHO expert committees and consultations.

FAO and WHO expert meetings are independent of the Commission (and the Commission’s subsidiary bodies), although their output contributes significantly to the scientific credibility of the Commission’s work. The principle of ensuring the independence of scientific advice from practical realities of risk management has been followed by Codex from the earliest days.

The main principles of developing scientific advice are:

Recent joint FAO/WHO expert meetings and consultations


  • Application of risk analysis to food standards issues


  • Biotechnology and food safety


  • Application of risk management to food safety

  • Food consumption and exposure assessment of chemicals


  • Role of government agencies in assessing HACCP

  • Application of risk communication to food standards and safety matters


  • Safety aspects of genetically modified foods of plant origin


  • Evaluation of the allergenicity of genetically modified foods


  • Acrylamide


  • Safety aspects of genetically modified foods from animals, including fish


  • Biotoxins in molluscan bivalves

Main FAO/WHO expert bodies

The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) was established in 1955 to consider chemical, toxicological and other aspects of contaminants and residues of veterinary drugs in foods for human consumption. The Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants and the Codex Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Foods identify food additives, contaminants and veterinary drug residues that should receive priority evaluation and refer them to JECFA for assessment before incorporating them into Codex standards.

Joint FAO/WHO Meetings on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) began in 1963 following a decision that the Codex Alimentarius Commission should recommend maximum residue limits (MRLs) for pesticide and environmental contaminants in specific food products to ensure the safety of foods containing residues. It was also decided that JMPR should recommend methods of sampling and analysis. There is close cooperation between JMPR and the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues (CCPR). CCPR identifies those substances requiring priority evaluation. After JMPR evaluation, CCPR discusses the recommended MRLs and, if they are acceptable, forwards them to the Commission for adoption as Codex MRLs.

Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meetings on Microbiological Risk Assessment (JEMRA) began work in 2000 to develop and provide advice to the Codex Alimentarius Commission on microbiological aspects of food safety. In addition to providing risk assessments, JEMRA develops guidance on related areas such as data collection and the application of risk assessment. JEMRA works most closely with the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene, but has also provided advice to other Codex committees, such as the Committee on Fish and Fishery Products.

The membership of expert consultations is of critical importance. The credibility and acceptability of any conclusions and recommendations depend to a very large degree on the objectivity, scientific skill and overall competence of the members who formulate them.

For this reason, great care is taken in the selection of experts invited to participate. Those selected must be pre-eminent in their specialty, have the highest respect of their scientific peers, and be impartial and indisputably objective in their judgement. They are appointed in their own personal right - not as government representatives or as spokespeople for organizations - and their inputs are theirs alone. Experts are invited through a “call for experts” to be considered in the selection process and inclusion on rosters as appropriate. Scientists from all parts of the world are encouraged to apply.

Some experts, especially those on continuing committees, remain members for long periods and thereby develop an invaluable institutional memory. A large amount of scientifically based food data have been generated by expert meetings convened and serviced jointly by FAO and WHO.

Two such groups, the Joint FAO/WHO Meetings on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), have for many years produced internationally acclaimed data that are widely used by governments, industry and research centres. Their input into the work of the Codex Commission is of fundamental importance, and the publications resulting from their activities are acclaimed international references. The safety assessments and evaluations performed by JECFA, like those performed by JMPR, are based on the best scientific information available, comprising inputs from many authoritative sources.

JEMRA, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meetings on Microbiological Risk Assessment, began its work in 2000. JEMRA aims to optimize the use of microbiological risk assessment as the scientific basis for risk management decisions that address microbiological hazards in foods. Its assessments and other advice contribute to the development of Codex standards, codes of hygienic practice and other guidelines in the area of food hygiene and provide the scientific basis for this work.

One of the strengths of the Codex and FAO and WHO relationship in Scientific matters is its flexibility. In recent years, FAO and WHO have held expert scientific consultations on a broad range of matters. Not all of these have resulted in the development of new Codex standards, as sometimes the best way of managing food safety risks is determined to be through other means. FAO and WHO also provide advice on how alternative means of risk management can be brought about.

FAO and WHO are not the only sources of scientific excellence on which Codex depends. Codex encourages other scientifically based intergovernmental organizations to contribute to the joint FAO and WHO scientific system. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provides advice and support on levels of radionuclide contamination in foods and on food irradiation. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) provides advice on animal health, on animal diseases affecting humans and on the linkages between animal health and food safety.

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