Codex Alimentarius 50 Years and Beyond


This blog was written in honor of the farewell of Mr. Van Hoogstraten, General-Director of the Carnegie Foundation and Treasurer of The Hague Academy of International Law. Mr. Steven van Hoogstraten held the position of Director for Food Policy and Product Safety at the Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports (1990-2000). Additionally Steven van Hoogstraten represented the Netherlands in the Codex Alimentarius Commission. He stood at the cradle of the creation of Codex Alimentarius and its implementation in the Netherlands. Furthermore Steven van Hoogstraten was appointed as the Vice-president of the Codex for a few years and has comprehenisive understanding of the workings of the Commission.

Codex Alimentarius

In 1962, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex Alimentarius or Codex) was formed under the joint sponsorship of two United Nations (UN) organizations: the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Today the 187 Codex Members and 234 Codex Observers countries that comprise Codex have two major food-related goals: (1) to protect the health of consumers, and (2) to ensure fair practices in food trade. The Codex Alimentarius Commission is the internationally recognized risk manager in the food safety area because its work is based on independent scientific advice provided by the FAO and WHO. Over the decades, Codex has produced standards for a wide range of food commodities, covering processed, semi-processed, or raw foods, ranging from spices and dried fruits to fresh milk and meat, as well as foods for special dietary uses. Altogether, Codex has established more than 200 food standards and more than 100 guidelines and codes of practice for food production and processing.

Importance Codex Standards

Codex standards are the benchmark standards for food safety. There is no competition. They are internationally recognized as the best, at every point along the food chain. Codex has had an enormous impact on how food producers and processors operate, and on consumer confidence in the safety and nutritional quality of food - whether consumed in their home countries or when travelling abroad. Today, consumers expect that a purchased food item conforms with the information on the label. This trust is thanks to decades of work by Codex. Codex standards also contribute to equity. Everyone in the world deserves the same assurance that the food they eat is safe and nutritious. Codex has also addressed "invisible" hazards. Maximum permissible levels for thousands of food additives, contaminants, pesticides, and veterinary drug residues have been established by the Commission. Because of its scientific methodology, Codex has also improved the standards for assessing food quality by stimulating food-related scientific and technological research. Today, Codex membership covers 99% of the world's population. Developing countries benefit from Codex standards once they have been adopted, for example by participating in the Codex meetings and working groups.

Codex Trust Fund

In its ten year history, the Fund has been used to support more than 2000 representatives from 134 countries to attend Codex meetings and working groups. Countries that understand the process by which standards are set are in a better position to interpret and implement them effectively.

Strategic plan 2014-2019 and Future Challenges

According to Samuel Benrejeb Godefroy, Director General of the Food Directorate, Health in Canada and Vice Chairperson of Codex Alimentarius Commission (2011-2014), Codex has evolved considerably since its creation. This is reflected by its growing diversity of its  members and its evolving governance structure, with new committees covering many aspects of food safety and nutrition as well as quality requirements for most food commodities traded internationally. In his article Godefroy stated that if Codex wants to reach the vision that it set for itself as part of its renewed Strategic Plan 2014-19, as the preeminent international food standard setting body, Codex has to adapt to its changing environment and face the various drivers of change that will characterise consumers worldwide and that will impact food production systems regionally and globally. Godefroy discussed five major challenges that he has identified through his discussions and engagement with the Codex community during the opportunities of meetings, workshops and colloquiums in 2013 and 2014:

  • Codex will be as useful as its standards remain relevant to its membership,
  • Sustainability of resources supporting Codex standards development,
  • Effective participation from an engaged membership,
  • Effective work management, and
  • Maintaining consensus in decision making by overcoming polarisation of positions amongst the membership.

These are major challenges, however through continued collaborative leadership, Codex values and principles will maintain the pillars that will enable Codex to stand the test of time and continue to deliver on its mandate to protect consumers’ health worldwide and develop standards that will ensure fair practices in the food trade.

Sanjay Dave, Chairman of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, stated in his opening statement at the 36th Session of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, July 2013:

“Work done by Codex over the past several years has greatly contributed to enhanced global trade in food products. One of the current challenges before countries is trade facilitation on account of private standards that has led to difficulties in market access for the small and marginal farmers of most developing countries. It is, therefore, necessary for us to ensure that Codex remains the pre-eminent food standards setting organization. In this direction, we need to ensure much greater acceptability and visibility of the Codex around the globe. Let us resolve in this 50th year that we will continue to support harmonization of national standards with those of the Codex and also extend help to the several developing countries in setting up appropriate laboratories and in developing capability for risk assessment activities. Our real success will lie in achieving this goal.”

Dear Steven, Thank you and Happy Retirement!