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The Codex Alimentarius (Latin for "Book of Food") is a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety.
Its name is derived from the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus. Its texts are developed and maintained by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body that was established in early November 1961 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), was joined by the World Health Organization (WHO) in June 1962, and held its first session in Rome in October 1963. The Commission's main goals are to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the international food trade. The Codex Alimentarius is recognized by the World Trade Organization as an international reference point for the resolution of disputes concerning food safety and consumer protection.
As of 2012, there were the 186 members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission: 186 member countries and one member organization, the European Union (EU). There were 215 Codex observers: 49 intergovernmental organizations, 150 non-governmental organizations, and 16 United Nations organizations.
The Codex Alimentarius covers all foods, whether processed, semi-processed or raw. In addition to standards for specific foods, the Codex Alimentarius contains general standards covering matters such as food labeling, food hygiene, food additives and pesticide residues, and procedures for assessing the safety of foods derived from modern biotechnology. It also contains guidelines for the management of official i.e. governmental import and export inspection and certification systems for foods.
- Food labelling (general standard, guidelines on nutrition labelling, guidelines on labelling claims)
- Food additives (general standard including authorized uses, specifications for food grade chemicals)
- Contaminants in foods (general standard, tolerances for specific contaminants including radionuclides, aflatoxins and other mycotoxins)
- Pesticide and veterinary chemical residues in foods (maximum residue limits)
- Risk assessment procedures for determining the safety of foods derived from biotechnology (DNA-modified plants, DNA-modified micro-organisms, allergens)
- Food hygiene (general principles, codes of hygienic practice in specific industries or food handling establishments, guidelines for the use of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point or “HACCP” system)
- Methods of analysis and sampling
- Meat products (fresh, frozen, processed meats and poultry)
- Fish and fishery products (marine, fresh water and aquaculture)
- Milk and milk products
- Foods for special dietary uses (including infant formula and baby foods)
- Fresh and processed vegetables, fruits, and fruit juices
- Cereals and derived products, dried legumes
- Fats, oils and derived products such as margarine
- Miscellaneous food products (chocolate, sugar, honey, mineral water)
The controversy over the Codex Alimentarius relates to a perception that it is a mandatory standard for the safety of food, including vitamin and mineral supplements. Supporters of the Codex Alimentarius say that it is a voluntary reference standard for food and that there is no obligation on countries to adopt Codex standards as a member of either Codex or any other international trade organization. From the point of view of its opponents, however, one of the main causes of concern is that the Codex Alimentarius is recognized by the World Trade Organization as an international reference standard for the resolution of disputes concerning food safety and consumer protection. Proponents argue that the use of Codex Alimentarius during international disputes does not exclude the use of other references or scientific studies as evidence of food safety and consumer protection.
It is reported that in 1996 the German delegation put forward a proposal that no herb, vitamin or mineral should be sold for preventive or therapeutic reasons, and that supplements should be reclassified as drugs. The proposal was agreed, but protests halted its implementation. The 28th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission was subsequently held July 4–9, 2005. Among the many issues discussed were the Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements, which were adopted during the meeting as new global safety guidelines: The guidelines state that "people should...be encouraged to select a balanced diet from food before considering any vitamin and mineral supplement. In cases where the intake from the diet is insufficient or where consumers consider their diet requires supplementation, vitamin and mineral food supplements serve to supplement the daily diet." This text has been the subject of considerable controversy among proponents of dietary supplements. Many countries regulate such substances as therapeutic goods or pharmaceuticals or by some other category, without requiring them to be shown to be medically useful. The text does not seek to ban supplements, but subjects them to labeling and packaging requirements, sets criteria for the setting of maximum and minimum dosage levels, and requires that safety and efficacy are considered when determining ingredient sources. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) will implement these criteria with "labelling to stop consumers overdosing on vitamin and mineral food supplements." The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) has said that the Guidelines call "for labelling that contains information on maximum consumption levels of vitamin and mineral food supplements." The WHO has also said that the Guidelines "ensure that consumers receive beneficial health effects from vitamins and minerals."
In 2004, similarities were noted between the EU's Food Supplements Directive and the Codex Alimentarius draft guidelines for vitamin and mineral supplements'. Additional controversy has been expressed by proponents of ecologically and socially sustainable agriculture and food systems, such as the Slow Food movement, although the Slow Food movement has become more closely aligned with the EU. In addition, the Manifesto on the Future of Food stated that "bureaucracies like the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Codex Alimentarius have codified policies designed to serve the interests of global agribusiness above all others, while actively undermining the rights of farmers and consumers".
- Codex Alimentarius: how it all began Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website. Accessed 6 September 2012.
- Codex timeline from 1945 to the present
- Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures World Trade Organization. Accessed 3 September 2008.
- Understanding the Codex Alimentarius Preface. Third Edition. Published in 2006 by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed 3 September 2008.
- "CODEX Alimentarius: Understanding Codex". FAO and WHO. 1999. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
Understanding Codex is available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian version.
- 'Health supplements: R.I.P.'. The Guardian newspaper, UK. Published 14 September 2002. Accessed 2 August 2008
- Codex Alimentarius Commission 28th Session, FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy, 4-9 July, 2005. Official report.
- Codex Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements
- "UN commission adopts safety guidelines for vitamin and food supplements". United Nations News Centre. 11 July 2005. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
- Rose Shepherd (29 February 2004). "Nil by mouth". The Observer, Guardian UK. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
- Our campaigns, Slow Food
- About us, Slow Food "Slow Food gratefully acknowledges funding support from the European Commission."
- The International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture (July 15, 2003). "Manifesto on the Future of Food" (PDF).
- Codex Alimentarius - official website
- 'Understanding the Codex Alimentarius' Published in 2005 by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed 4 May 2007.
- "Authority and Legitimacy in Global Governance: Deliberation, Institutional Differentiation, and the Codex Alimentarius" Michael Livermore, 81 NYU Law Review 766 (2006)
- Organic Standards Database to compare the EU regulation on organic farming, the National Organic Program (NOP) of the US and the guidelines for the production, processing, labeling and marketing of organically produced food of the Codex Alimentarius
- 'Codex Alimentarius Commission' Documents for The 35th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Published 13 July 2012 by the Food Inspection & Safety Service of the U.S.D.A. Accessed 6 September 2012.