Ensuring Food Safety and Nutrition Security to Protect Consumer Health: 50 Years of the Codex Alimentarius Commission

Article excerpt

The globalization of trade, which has contributed to food availability and diversification throughout the world, has also increased the chances that the food produced in one place will affect the health and diet of people living in another. As a result, global food safety and nutrition measures applicable across borders, institutions and disciplines, including the establishment of evidence-based international standards on food safety and nutrition, are more important than ever before. Since its inception in 1963, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has developed hundreds of such standards and provided guidance for improving food safety and nutrition in each of its member states and globally.

The Commission, whose 186 members represent 99% of the world's population, is the principal body of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Food Standards Programme. (1) In addition to international food safety and nutrition standards, it develops guidelines and codes of practice, also intended to protect consumers' health as well as to ensure fair practices in the food trade. Its standards and related texts cover an impressively wide range of subjects of international relevance having to do with biotechnology, pesticides, pathogens, additives and contaminants, food labelling, reference values for nutrients (particularly those related to the risk of noncommunicable diseases) and many other areas. In 1995, the World Trade Organization Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures called on members of the World Trade Organization to harmonize their national regulations to Codex standards, (2) which have since become international benchmarks for food safety.

Over the decades the Commission has benefited from the scientific and technical advice provided by WHO. In collaboration with FAO, WHO has convened international meetings of experts to address emerging or emergency issues and provide independent risk assessments, and the recommendations from these meetings feed directly into the Commission's standard-setting process. Four expert groups meet regularly: the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives has carried out risk assessments related to food additives, contaminants, natural toxins and veterinary drug residues in food since 1956; the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues has assessed since 1963 the potential health effects of pesticide residues and recommends safe maximum residue levels for specific food commodities; the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meeting on Microbiological Risk Assessment has focused since 2000 on risk assessments for selected pathogen-commodity combinations, and the recently-established Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meetings on Nutrition provide scientific advice on nutritional matters.

Although Codex standards are sometimes viewed as "trade standards", their primary purpose is to protect consumers' health by ensuring the safety and nutritional quality of food products traded worldwide. …


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