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Codex@60 / Celebrating the international forum for food safety standards


Throughout this year, Codex Members and Observers have celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), which held its first meeting in June 1963. The celebrations began in January at the FAO/WHO Coordinating Committee for North America and the South West Pacific, in Fiji, and then continued across the world and in the various Codex regions, before culminating in the opening ceremony of the 46th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC46). 

A 60-year journey that has witnessed the transformation and evolution of Codex into the current international forum where the world comes together to create food safety and quality standards to protect everyone, everywhere. A journey which started in 1963, with 30 countries and 16 observers from international organizations. 

Initially, most Codex Members were from high-income countries, many from Europe, but now Codex membership is truly global. The Codex Trust Fund, which has been in operation for 20 years now, has helped to achieve this result” - commented Stuart Slorach, former CAC Chairperson - There has been a gradual shift in emphasis over time from standards for individual foods to horizontal standards, for example the general standards for additives and contaminants 

Another milestone in this journey was set in 1995 when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) recognized the role of Codex standards in international trade. The creation of the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreements had a profound effect on Codex, as its food safety standards were recognised as the international benchmarks. This still means that if challenged, countries applying stricter measures may be called upon to justify them at a WTO panel” – added Mr Slorach.   

Prevention is better than cure

With the evolution of the food chain and international trade, the need to work more closely with organizations such as IGOs and NGOs became even more evident and necessary. Governmental and non-governmental, public and private organizations alike started to play a vital role in ensuring Codex texts were of the highest quality and based on sound science. Codex emphasizes the “Whole food chain” approach to food safety and that “Prevention is better than cure” - said Mr Slorach - “International organizations working in the area of food safety should continue to cooperate closely to avoid duplication of effort and, above all, contradictory standards”. 

And as Codex evolved, the Codex Secretariat also had to constantly re-invent itself to better support Codex Members and keep up with new technologiesToday, every Codex standard is created and stored digitally and made publicly available on the Codex website in multiple languages, but this hasn’t always been the caseUp until 1993 we moved three to four tonnes of documents from Rome to the Conference Centre in Geneva by road transport – commented former Codex Secretary, Alan Randell – “In 1997 we moved them by CD-ROM. We were the first in FAO to deliver documents in PDF on a regular basis by providing a link to the FTP server and sending emails to Contact Points with the links. Only with time the Codex website became the core of our activities.  

Overall, the 60th anniversary of Codex provided an opportunity to showcase the key benefits of Codex standards, but it was also a chance to reflect on the future of Codex and how it can contribute to the transformation of agrifood systems, protecting health and facilitating trade. 

The Codex Secretariat remains committed to working to help its membership deliver on the Codex mandate which in changing global environment also means responding to challenges on the horizon - said Sarah Cahill, Senior Food Standards Officer - but also strengthening our foundations as well as seeking new synergies and opportunities for the future Codex we all want to build, together. 


Learn more 

Download the 2023 edition of the CODEX magazine 


Photo credit © FAO/Codex Roberto Sciotti