Andrew G. Ebert

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is the major international organization created in 1962 by two United Nations groups—the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization—to develop international food standards, codes of practice, and other guidelines to protect consumers’ health and facilitate international food trade by repression of non-tariff trade barriers. The Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement of the Uruguay Round of GATT requires World Trade Organization members to base their sanitary and phytosanitary measures on Codex standards. The revised Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement also references Codex texts. Thus, the outcome of Codex decisions facilitates world trade and improves food safety.

Codex comprises representatives of the governments of 184 countries, 46 intergovernmental organizations, and 134 international non-government organizations (NGOs). IFT’s status as an NGO enables us to actively participate in meetings of Codex and its subsidiary bodies, such as committees and their working groups. IFT’s active involvement is especially important, as we can be a critically valued source of scientific expertise in food science and technology for Codex deliberations.

A committee within IFT leads and prioritizes IFT’s involvement in Codex activities, following established IFT guidelines to ensure continuity and a sound scientific basis of views expressed on behalf of IFT. Members of this IFT committee are linked with a specific Codex committee on the basis of specific expertise relating to their assignment. The committee also tracks and responds to opportunities to nominate IFT members to FAO and WHO rosters of experts.

IFT’s Office of Science, Communications, and Government Relations (OSCGR) coordinates involvement of IFT committee members and others in Codex activities. OSCGR staff are assigned as key committee contacts for coordinating the Institute’s involvement in the activities of identified committees, task forces, and other Codex groups.

IFT’s Codex committee has prioritized IFT involvement in “horizontal” committees (those on general subjects) over “commodity” committees (those which develop standards for specific foods or classes of food). Horizontal committees develop all embracing concepts and principles applying to foods; endorse or review relevant provisions in Codex commodity standards; and, based on the advice of expert scientific bodies, develop major recommendations pertaining to consumers’ health and safety. The committee is currently planning and guiding IFT activity in the Codex committees on Food Hygiene, Methods of Analysis and Sampling, Food Additives and Contaminants, Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses, Pesticide Residues, Food Labeling, General Principles, Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems, and Veterinary Drug Residues; the Task Force on Biotechnology; and the Codex Alimentarius Commission itself.

IFT’s Codex committee is following several issues pertinent to IFT, including biotechnology safety assessment, labeling, analytical methods, and traceability; specifications for food additives; maximum residue limits for contaminants; guidelines for judging equivalence of sanitary measures associated with food inspection and certification systems; guidelines for the control of Listeria monocytogenes; codes of practice for fresh fruits and vegetables and other food groups; antibiotic use and resistance; and HACCP, risk assessment, management, communication, and analysis.

IFT recently participated in the Food Hygiene (CCFH) meeting in Bangkok. During this meeting, the CCFH concluded work on its “Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables,” thus sending the document to the Codex for adoption at its next meeting. The CCFH discussed the concept of “Food Safety Objective” in the context of risk management and agreed on the following working definition: “The maximum frequency and/or concentration of a [microbiological] hazard in a food at the  time of consumption that provides the appropriate level of health protection [ALOP].” The committee also initiated the development of risk profiles for Campylobacter and Salmonella species in broilers, Vibrio species in seafood, and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli in ground beef and other commodities. In addition to work with these pathogens, the committee continued addressing L. monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods and Salmonella enteritidis in eggs.

Readers can follow Codex developments through this column; by accessing the Codex Web site ( and the World of Food Science Web site (; or by contacting the IFT committee’s staff liaison, Rosetta Newsome, at [email protected] or the OSCGR staff at [email protected].

Chair, IFT Committee on
Codex Alimentarius Activities
Senior Vice President, The Kellen Co., Atlanta, Ga.