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World Health Day: Codex addresses our right to quality information


Under the theme “My health, my right”, this year’s World Health Day is championing “the right of everyone, everywhere to have access to quality health services, education, and information.” From a Codex perspective, the theme touches on many aspects of food standards setting work. The Codex Alimentarius itself is an open access resource of all the science-based information developed into standards, guidelines and codes of practice that support countries to ensure food produced both domestically and for export is safe for human consumption. The right to food is a human right, and if it is not safe, it is not food.

In particular, Codex work directly associated with consumer information is carried out in the Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL). Consumers make dietary, ethical and even life-or-death choices by reading the labelling on food products. CCFL has produced and is working on a range of texts that provide regulatory authorities with the texts to ensure shoppers can make informed, evidence-based decisions about the nutritional components of their food. These texts include the Guidelines on Nutrition Labelling (CXG 2-1985) and the Guidelines for Use of Nutrition and Health Claims (CXG 23-1997), which help governments better inform consumers on the nutritional value of food. These have since been revised many times to ensure the guidelines remain consistent with and reflect current scientific knowledge and other relevant information, including a recent addition of the guidelines on front-of-pack nutrition labelling. Within the Committee, discussions are also ongoing around how its work might relate to sustainability claims on food labels – a subject that is gaining importance among consumers.

For consumers who suffer from food-based allergies, the information they can obtain from food labelling can help them avoid ingredients that are potentially harmful or even fatal for them. CCFL is currently revising the General Standard for the Labelling of Pre-packaged Foods (CXS 1-1985) by discussing provisions relevant to allergen labelling, and is developing an annex to this standard on the use of precautionary allergen labelling. In a novel move for Codex, the Committee is also calling on the social sciences to assist in improving understanding around consumer knowledge, attitudes and behaviours relating to allergen declarations and precautionary allergen labelling. This will result in labelling that is not only accurate but that consumers will understand and respond to.

"Many consumers actively seek information about products that have qualities that serve their nutrition and health needs and are consistent with their values" – says Verna Carolissen, Food Standards Officer, Codex Secretariat – “Codex standards on labelling provide consumers with the information on the nutrition and safety aspects of our foods”.

Nutrition officer, Maria Xipsiti, from FAO’s Food and Nutrition Division adds that “Codex standards have also been used by countries as guidance for harmonization and as the basis for new labelling policies.” Rain Yamamoto, Scientist, WHO nutrition and food safety, also points out that “it's crucial that we continue providing the scientific evidence base to support Codex in empowering countries to implement effective food labelling policies that help consumers make safer and healthier dietary decisions.”

Through proposed guidelines on the use of technology to provide food information in food labelling and proposed guidelines on the provision of food information for pre-packaged foods offered via e-commerce, CCFL is also addressing the changing contexts in which we shop. As the world changes, so must Codex ... because we can only make the right decisions for our health if we have the right information.

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World Health Day (
CCFL (Codex website)

Photo ©WHO/Sue Price