Food safety and quality

Scientific advice

The provision of scientific advice in support of setting international food standards is a foundational element of global food safety governance. Without the authoritative and globally-relevant advice from the Joint FAO/WHO expert bodies, the setting of many Codex standards would not be possible. Beyond that, member countries and partners call on FAO for independent scientific opinions and advice, for example regarding food safety implications of new technologies such a biotechnology.

For over 50 years, FAO in collaboration with WHO has been providing neutral and independent scientific advice as the basis for the international food safety standards, guidelines and codes of practice established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), and for supporting the development of modern food control systems by national authorities.

FAO/WHO scientific advice is provided on issues related to:

  • the safety assessment of chemicals in food
    (e.g. food additives, veterinary drug residues, pesticide residues, contaminants, natural toxins);
  •  the safety assessment of biological agents in food
    (e.g. micro-organisms, fungi, parasites and prions);
  • the assessment of practices and technologies used for the production of foods
    (e.g. the safety assessment of foods derived from biotechnology); an
  • human nutrition (e.g. probiotics, human nutrient requirements, food fortification).

Framework for the provision of scientific advice

FAO’s work in this area is implemented under the FAO/WHO framework for the provision of scientific advice, which has been prepared to enhance the transparency of the processes and procedures used by FAO and WHO to deliver scientific advice in food safety and nutrition. The framework documents the modus operandi for the provision of scientific advice and describes the principles, practices and procedures currently applied by FAO and WHO.

At its heart are several core principles:

  • Soundness: scientific excellence, both of the experts and the process.
  • Responsibility: accountability, safeguarding the integrity of the process.
  • Objectivity: includes neutrality of the experts and neutrality to the advice provided.
  • Fairness: of the process, and respect for all participants and their scientific views.
  • Transparency: of both the process and the scientific advice
  • Inclusiveness: balance of skills and expertise, minority scientific opinion, geographical and socioeconomic balance without compromising excellence.

FAO and WHO provide scientific advice related to food safety and nutrition in response to specific requests from member countries, from Codex Committees or occasionally from specific programmes within FAO and WHO, through different mechanisms.

Mechanisms for the provision of scientific advice

FAO and WHO provide scientific advice related to food safety and nutrition through different mechanisms, expert bodies and meetings, and ad hoc consultations:

  • The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) (active since 1956)
  • The Joint FAO/WHO Meetings on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) (active since 1963)
  • The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meetings on Microbiological Risk Assessment (JEMRA) (active since 2000)
  •  The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meetings on Pesticide Specifications (JMPS) (active since 2002)
  • The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meeting on Nutrition (JEMNU)
  •  Ad hoc expert consultations and meetings organized in response to specific ad hoc requests or emergency situations.

Sustainable funding for the provision of scientific Advice

FAO and WHO activities related to the provision of scientific advice on food safety and nutrition are financed by both organizations separately, and extra-budgetary resources are provided by national governments.

In order to meet the growing demand for scientific advice and to specifically address the issue of sustainability of the provision of scientific advice, FAO and WHO have established several mechanisms to facilitate the sustainable funding of the work on scientific advice for food safety and nutrition. To obtain more information, please contact [email protected].