What is codex alimentarius?

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The Latin term Codex Alimentarius may sound strange and seem foreign. One could easily and wrongly associate it with the Catholic Church.

Each time I heard it mentioned during my initial stages at the Ghana Standards Authority, I would say to myself, “Codex Alimentarius – What at all is it doing in a Standards Organisation?”

As a student in the early 80’s and 90’s, I did not have the priviledge to study Latin unlike my predecessors of old. This perceived language barrier, perhaps lack of understanding and of course, ignorance at that time, prevented me from digging deeper to discover for myself what exactly lay beneath the unfamiliar term.

The question now, is: “What comes to mind when you hear about Codex Alimentarius?”

The Codex Alimentarius, (commonly referred to as Codex) and also known as “the food code” basically, is a collection of international food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was established by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1963 under the joint FAO/WHO food standards programme.

The main purpose for this programme is to:

l   Protect the health of consumers

l   Ensure fair practices in the food trade

l Promote and co-ordinate all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organisations.

Currently, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has 185 Member countries and one (1) Member Organisation (European Union) and 229 international and non-governmental observers.

The Commission provides a neutral forum where governments, Consumer groups, industry and academia meet to exchange ideas about food safety and trade and to adopt standards.

Decisions are usually taken by consensus and are based on scientific advice provided by FAO/WHO expert committees, which are independent of the Commission.

The Codex Alimentarius provides safer food and makes world food trade run smoothly by harmonising standards. Since 1995, Codex standards have become international benchmarks under the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (food safety and animal and plant health).

Codex standards cover areas ranging from pesticide residues, methods of analysis and sampling, nutrition and foods for special dietary uses.


Who benefits?

* Consumers

We live in a global village and food travelling from far and near to get to us risks a high probability of getting contaminated.

Thankfully, this risk could be reduced to the barest minimum as a result of the Codex Alimentarius rules for food labelling, food additives, pesticide residues, food hygiene, veterinary drug residues in foods and more.

With this at the back of our minds, we, as consumers can be assured of the safety and quality of food consumed.

Exporters and Importers have eagerly embraced universal, uniform Codex Alimentarius food standards in an ever –expanding global market.

Many countries, including Ghana- a member of the Codex Alimentarius Commission- have adopted the Codex standards on food production, processing and codes of practice. This has largely facilitated food trade worldwide.

Our existence as human beings depends very much on food. Food producers including farmers and fishermen have a vital role in feeding the world.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission assists them by developing standards that cover various types of food including fish and fishery products, fruits and vegetables and codes of practice.

When the requirements of these standards are met and implemented, safe and high quality products are obtained.

The term Codex Alimentarius, is therefore not as strange as I had ever imagined. It rather offers tremendous wealth of knowledge on food safety issues for curious minds.

As the World Health Organisation, one of the parent Organisations of the Codex Alimentarius Commission was preparing to celebrate the World Health Day, which fell on April 7, 2015, with the theme “FOOD SAFETY”, it was expected that all and sundry will take the opportunity and a bit of their time to explore the Codex Alimentarius Commission website : http://www.codexalimentarius.org . There is a lot to discover for ourselves.

By Nana Pokuaa Asare-Twerefour

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