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By Allen Sayler

This month’s Ask the Expert is answered by Senior Director for Food Consulting Services, Allen Sayler, who recently returned from the 50th session of the Codex Committee on Food Additives held in Xiamen, China where 53 countries and 32 food industry observer organizations participated. Mr. Sayler has been an active food industry representative attending various Codex Committee meetings since 1997. Each month EAS experts tackle one question sent in by readers. To ask your question, please use our Contact Us form on the website.

Question: As a small, medium or large food manufacturer, why are Codex food standards important to me? I don’t export outside of the US and I don’t use imported materials in my production.

Sayler: The adoption of Codex food standards is intended to result in a similar change to individual country food standards, so they are similar or identical to Codex standards. This will affect all US food manufacturers, even those that do not export foods to other countries.

While Codex Alimentarius standards are voluntary, all participating governments (approximately 190) have agreed that as Codex adopts food standards, member countries should start changing their food standards to reflect these internationally-recognized Codex standards. If a country like the US does not start the process of changing its food standards to be similar to the Codex standards, and another Codex member country challenges this, the dispute is resolved using the World Trade Organization’s “Dispute Settlement Body”. The loser has to either change its food standards, pay the winner a fee comparable to the lost income from not having access to the loser’s markets or agreed that some of the loser’s food exports will be blocked by the winning country(s). While US government adoption of Codex food standards has been slow, over time, it is likely that US food standards will be changed.

Background Information: The Codex Alimentarius Commission, (meaning “Food Code” in Latin), is a United Nations-supported organization that develops food standards, guidelines, and operational principles in order to protect consumer health and facilitate international trade. These documents range from food quality and safety requirements, pesticide, and vet. drug residues, food additives, food hygiene, food contaminants, labeling as well as new food standards for fruits and vegetables, seafood, dairy products, etc. All Codex documents are intended to be scientifically-based in order to protect the health of those consuming the food. Specific country and regional standards, preferences and non-scientific requirements are not intended to override applicable Codex standards.

Using the recent Codex Committee on Food Additive meeting in China as an example, over 500 new food additive provisions were adopted while another 200 were blocked from adoption or removed from the Codex General Standard for Food Additives (GSFA). In addition, all food additives in the various Codex food standards are being methodically moved into the GSFA, which means some of importance to the food manufacturing industry may be dropped or maximum use level changed. Differences in each country’s food additive regulations are one of the primary reasons for blocking food imports.

There are many examples where Codex standards have been adopted as the national standard of food safety and policy, and even more examples where exporting countries have found that adoption of Codex standards to be a key to success due to its reference in bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements. Countries that wish to adopt Codex standards as their own national standard may receive support in doing so. The important work of the Codex Commission has created a greater worldwide awareness of food safety, quality, and consumer protection issues.

Last month you may have taken the opportunity to read the article written by Bruce Silverglade in EAS-e-News on the US Codex office’s move within the USDA and new opportunities that may provide food companies. Answers to more specific questions on the US Codex Alimentarius Commission or FAO Codex can be addressed to our Senior Director for Food Consulting Services.

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