Codex Alimentarius (Codex), the world’s leading food standards body, has been “profoundly effective” in establishing international foodstandards and fair trade practices over the past 50 years, according to Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

At the Codex annual meeting held from 25 June to 3 July in conjunction with the body’s 50th anniversary, Dr Chan noted: “Today, Codex standards are the benchmark standards for food safety. There is no competition. They are internationally recognised as the best, at every point along the food chain.”

Founded as a joint venture between the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Codex sets internationally harmonised food standards, guidelines and codes of practice which aim to protect consumers’ health and ensure fair food trade practices. These harmonised standards are also vital in helping remove significant barriers to trade.

Mr Sanjay Dave, Current Chairman of the Codex Alimentarius Commission highlighted the difficult task of developing global food standards, ensuring a thorough understanding of the issues and the need to ensure the views and concerns of all delegates are heard.

He noted: “An important point is that the Chair must be absolutely fair and there can be no compromise on this. He/she must inspire complete trust in the members.”

Food Industry Asia’s Chief Scientific Officer, Kim Leighton acknowledged the vital contribution of Codex to the food industry in Asia, saying“Over the past 50 years, Codex has played a significant role in producing more than 200 standards and guidelines and helped set the basis for food legislation in many countries which rely upon both imported and exported foods.”

“Based on science and technological research, these standards have paved the way in enhancing consumer confidence in the safety and nutritional quality of their foods. Codex has provided guidance on how food producers should operate and which has raised the bar on the overall quality of food. As a result, consumers can now enjoy safe and nutritious food from all over the world.”

Mr Leightonnoted that it takes several years and many hundreds of man-hours in discussions to develop each of the Codex Standards, Appendices and Guidelines. However, this is the key to the success of Codex as the eight-step process of standards development provides participation and consensus agreement by representatives of many of the 159 WTO member countries.

The Codex process ensures that developing countries have an equal voice, and equal opportunity to participate, as those from developed economies; that the standards developed are no more onerous than necessary to ensure the protection of public health and promote fair trade; and that documents are translated into major international languages and the nuances of those translations are agreed upon by the relevant country delegation leaders.

“The Codex process is slow and negotiations are extremely difficult, but the outcome is a robust process that builds trust and promotes international harmonisation of requirements for food and ingredients,helping to remove significant technical barriers to trade.” said Mr Leighton.

“Codex standards and guidelines are important references to ensure a globally consistent approach to safety and quality standards particularly in developing countries where food regulatory systems are still developing.This minimises unnecessary barriers to trade such as variances in contaminant limits and the authorisation of food ingredients, and enables the free movement of food products across international borders to help facilitate trade.

Moving forward, Codex is seeking to promote healthy dietary practices and to address the increasing problem of diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The Codex Commission recently agreed on new standards on fruit, vegetables and fish, salt and fat labelling, hygiene and carcinogenic contaminants, in line with its 50th anniversary. These include adopting anew standard to require sodium and saturated fatty acids to be labelled with nutrient reference values.

On the future of Codex, Commission Chairman Mr Sanjay Dave said it was important that standards reflected our changing lifestyles, advances in technologies, as well as the need to grow the global trade in food to meet the rising challenges of safe and secure food supplies.

“As we move on to overcome new challenges, we seean increasing opportunity to collaborate with different sectors around the world and integrate further with the world’s food system.”

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