For more than half a century, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has overseen the development of internationally aligned food standards, guidelines, and codes of practice under the auspices of the United Nations. As the commission celebrates its six decades in existence, IFT’s Codex Coordinator Steve Havlik explains just how essential its work has been for the planet.
“Codex is among the most successful global activities undertaken by the U.N.,” says Havlik, who has overseen IFT’s Codex activities since 2021. “Without global food trade enabled by Codex, along with increased production and improved distribution mechanisms, it is doubtful that the world could support the more than 8 billion people living on Earth today.”
For 32 years, IFT has been a Codex observer. These 240 intergovernmental and international non-governmental organizations and other expert bodies provide critical input on the commission’s international standard setting. Below, Havlik talks about Codex’s importance and biggest contributions to date and encourages IFT members to take an active role in the commission’s future.
Why is having an international commission like Codex so important? Where would we be if it didn’t exist?
The ability of global supply chains to trade in agricultural and food commodities across the 188 member countries of Codex is why having an international commission is so crucial. Without Codex, trade between countries would need to be arranged country to country or within global trading blocs, hindering trade. The numbers help tell the story: In 1950, global trade in food and agricultural products was less than $20 billion. By 2023, it was estimated to be more than $2,000 billion—the most dramatic change in the world’s food supply in human history. Codex has been an enabler of such trade, along with the reduced cost of transportation of food products and improvements in food processing to enable safety of products to get to markets.
What have been Codex’s top three contributions to global food safety standards over the past 60 years?
Since its founding, Codex has implemented over 240 globally harmonized food safety standards. The adoption of these standards by member countries has greatly simplified food trade and improved the safety of the global food supply. Additionally, the commission has implemented over 100 maximum levels for contaminants in food and 4,400 maximum usage levels for food additives. Leveraging the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) process, Codex has helped member countries define safe usage of various food commodities in country, while assisting food producers with standards for world trade in these food commodities. A third remarkable contribution has been the implementation of globally aligned Codes of Practice and Guidelines for member countries. Codex’s globally aligned texts such as the General Principles of Food Hygiene and Guidelines on Nutrition Labelling have greatly standardized member country approaches to food safety and product labeling, increasing global food safety and enabling global trade in food.
Why should IFT members get involved in ongoing Codex efforts?
Sound science is the foundation of the Codex standards, codes of practice, and guidelines, and IFT’s membership brings expertise that cuts across most aspects of the science of food. This is relatively unique among observer organizations at Codex, where most observers are solely focused on a particular Codex topic area, like food additives. IFT members with experience in the core Codex food safety areas of contaminants (natural or synthetic), food additives (chemistry, ingredient, and product design), food microbiology, agricultural commodity processing (grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, and seafood), food nutrition, and food safety and quality control, all have a role to play as IFT Codex volunteers. Those experienced with regulatory affairs and international food trade, including food labeling and import/export requirements, are also needed.
What are some of the specific roles members can play?
IFT has four Codex volunteer roles, each with varying degrees of involvement: Codex Team Leaders, Team Members, Associate Team Members, and Expert Contributors (providing ad hoc topic-focused engagement as needed by the teams). Since we created this team structure in 2021, the more than 35 IFT members who have been involved in our Codex activities have contributed extremely valuable scientific input.