The increasing concern about food safety as well as plant and animal health since they provide food has created food safety and regulatory bodies worldwide. Almost all countries adopt some necessary measure that will ensure that human, animal, plant health and life is protected. One of these bodies is the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) which was created in 1963 by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop food standards, guidelines and codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. Codex Alimentarius is a collection of standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations. Codex standards are recognized by World Trade Organization (WTO) as a reference point in settling disputes that could arise in international trade, food safety and consumer protection.
Codex Alimentarius Commission is the body while Codex Alimentarius means “Book of Food” in Latin. Therefore we can say that this book contains a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety. Major objectives of the Codex Alimentarius Commission are to
- protect the health of consumers
- ensure fair practices in the food trade
- facilitate international trade in food
- promote coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations
The Codex Alimentarius has standards that cover all foods, whether processed, semi-processed or raw. There are standards for specific foods as well general standards for food labelling, food hygiene, food additives and pesticide residues, and procedures for assessing the safety of foods derived from modern biotechnology (like genetically modified foods). It also contains guidelines for the management of official or governmental import and export inspection and certification systems for foods.
Codex standards describe the product characteristics which may be similar to government-regulated characteristics that are appropriate for a particular commodity, or it could have just one characteristic. An example of standards dealing with one characteristic is the Maximum residue limits (MRLs) for pesticides or veterinary drugs in foods. Codex has specific standards Called Commodity Standards which is the largest group of standards. Major commodities included in the Codex are:
- cereals, pulses (legumes) and derived products including vegetable proteins
- fats and oils and related products lie margarine
- fish and fishery products (marine, fresh water and aquaculture)
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- processed and quick-frozen fruits and vegetables
- fruit juices
- meat and meat products; soups and broths (fresh, frozen, processed meats and poultry)
- milk and milk products
- sugars, cocoa products and chocolate and other miscellaneous products
The Codex general standards cover food additives, food labelling, contaminants and toxins in foods of all categories, pesticides, risk management and food hygiene. For example the Codex General Standard for the Labelling of Pre-packaged Foods covers all foods in this category. Because standards relate to product characteristics, they can be applied wherever the products are sold or traded.
Codex methods of analysis and sampling include those for contaminants and residues of pesticides and veterinary drugs in foods and the methods of analysis are also Codex standards.
All Codex codes of practice, like hygienic practice, processing, manufacturing, transport and storage practices for individual foods or groups of foods that are considered essential to ensure the safety and suitability for consumption.
Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene introduces the use of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) and the Food Safety Management System (FSMS).
Codex guidelines are of two categories
- At number one are the principles that set out policy in certain key areas
- Second are the guidelines that are used to interpret principles or that interpret the provisions of the Codex general standards.
Codex guidelines that are interpretative in nature are those used for food labelling, especially claims made on the label, whether for nutritional and health claims, conditions for production, marketing and labelling of organic foods, and foods claimed to be ‘halal’ foods.
One of the major works of the Codex Alimentarius Commission is to prepare food standards and enter them in the Codex Alimentarius. The procedures used by the Commission are published in ‘Procedural Manual of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.’ This includes the procedures for preparing standards which are open and transparent. Most standards take a number of years to develop as they have to follow the procedures as described in the Procedural Manual. Once adopted by the Commission, a Codex standard is added to the Codex Alimentarius.