Alicia Ng, Senior Science and Regulatory Affairs Manager at FIA recently shared her views on the role of Codex Alimentarius and its value to the food industry.

FIA: What is the Codex Alimentarius Commission?
Codex Alimentarius is a Latin expression meaning "Food Code" or "Food Book". It is officially described as a "collection of internationally adopted food standards presented in a uniform manner”. The Codex Alimentarius (Codex) Commission, established by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1962, is the international standard setting body. It has a wide variety of standards, guidelines and other recommendations for food and its principle aims are:
  • Protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair practices in the food trade;
  • Promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organisations.

FIA: What is the value of Codex to the food industry?
Codex has a huge value to the food industry worldwide. It underpins the basis of regulatory compliance in many countries, helping to ensure product safety and quality and facilitate fair trade.

Codex standards and guidelines, in particular those related to food safety, provide science-based international standards to enable producers in developing countries to improve safety standards and avoid costly detention and rejection of their shipments due to unfit goods. By setting an international benchmark, Codex facilitates the upgrading of product safety and quality and enhances international market access.

In addition, Codex provides the international reference for the harmonisation of food standards and regulations, helping to minimise technical trade barriers and allowing food companies to compete fairly and transparently in global markets.

FIA: How does Codex drive harmonisation in the food industry in Asia?
Codex standards, guidelines and recommendations form the basis for harmonisation of food standards in many regions and countries around the world, helping to remove technical barriers to trade.

Government agencies, especially in developing countries, can often lack capacity to develop robust national regulatory systems that can be implemented comprehensively at all levels of the food industry. The food industry in these countries can use Codex standards as purchasing specifications to ensure imported materials meet good safety and quality standards.

At the company level, responsible food businesses use Codex standards and guidelines as important references in setting product specifications and company policies, to ensure good safety and quality of products when trading in multiple countries and where systems are still in development.

In addition, food importers and exporters often face a lot of trade disruptions at the ports of entry as a result of product detentions. Products are typically detained for non-compliance with the regulatory requirement of the importing country. In circumstances where the detentions are due to unclear regulations or inconsistent application and enforcement of regulations, Codex standards serve as strong references to settle trade disruptions.

FIA: What role does the food industry play in setting standards and guidelines in Codex?
The private sector plays an important role in the development of Codex standards and guidelines. Scientists and experts from the food industry participate in meetings, technical discussions and provide first-hand experience especially on issues relating to science-based risk assessment and practical risk management. Working hand in hand with government and non-government experts, they contribute to the real-time enhancement of standards, guidelines and recommendations.

Some of the industry’s contributions include the development of standards in food labelling and the principles of food hygiene and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). The industry views on such issues are invaluable as they are based on practical operational experiences. Such experiences enable industry experts to share further insights on specific technical and economic implications of proposed Codex standards.

FIA: How can the public and private sector work together to implement Codex standards?
Many countries readily invite industry experts to join their national delegations especially those who are active in leading Codex discussions and require specific expertise and knowledge of their sector.

In this respect, national or regional trade associations play an important role in facilitating industry positions for Codex discussions, by drawing input from a large base of members to reflect a common industry position. The cornerstone of industry policy is science-based risk assessment and practical risk management. Other legitimate factors are considered by risk management bodies, including cultural, societal, environmental, and economic interests. These factors may complement the standard-setting process but if they are used to substitute for the scientific analysis they can often be the root cause of technical barriers to trade.

The food industry plays a vital role around the world in advocating for the adherence to Codex standards. Alignment to international guidelines can facilitate the flow of food products across borders and open up new markets within and between regions. A good example can be found in the ASEAN region, where the ASEAN Food & Beverage Alliance (AFBA) is working with governments and non-governmental partners to promote the harmonisation of regulations and food standards based on Codex guidelines.

For further information on Codex, please visit the official website.