Codex Alimentarius

John Unsworth
7th April 2010


From the earliest times, governing authorities have been concerned with the safety and quality of food. Assyrian tablets described the method to be used in determining the correct weights and measures for food grains and Egyptian scrolls prescribed labelling to be applied to certain foods. In ancient Athens, beer and wines were inspected for purity and soundness and the Romans had a well-organised state food control system to protect consumers from fraud or bad produce. In Europe during the Middle Ages, individual countries passed laws concerning the quality and safety of eggs, sausages, beer, wine and bread1.


The second half of the nineteenth century saw the first general food laws adopted and basic food control systems put in place to monitor compliance. During the same period, food chemistry came to be recognized as a reputable discipline, and the determination of the “purity” of a food was primarily based on the chemical parameters of simple food composition. When harmful industrial chemicals were used to disguise the true colour or nature of food, the concept of “adulteration” was extended to include the use of hazardous chemicals in food. Science had begun providing tools with which to disclose dishonest practices in the sale of food and to distinguish between safe and unsafe edible products1.


Developments in food safety and quality continued throughout the 20th century with individual countries setting their own food regulations. However, it became apparent that these were often conflicting and contradictory. Thus the Codex Alimentarius Commission was created in 1963 by FAO and WHO to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme which are published in the Codex Alimentarius1.


The Codex Alimentarius covers all foods and contains general standards for matters such as food labelling, hygiene, additives and pesticide residues, in addition there are procedures for assessing the safety of foods derived from biotechnology. The Codex Alimentarius Commission is science based and has stimulated activity in the fields of food chemistry, food technology, food microbiology, mycology and pesticide and veterinary drug residues. Much work is carried out in the form of collaborative studies among individual scientists, laboratories, institutes and universities and joint FAO/WHO expert committees and consultations2. As well as English it is published in Arabic, Chinese, French and Spanish.


Codex standards usually relate to product characteristics and may deal with all government-regulated characteristics appropriate to the commodity, or only one characteristic. Maximum residue limits (MRLs) for residues of pesticides or veterinary drugs in foods are examples of standards dealing with only one characteristic. There are Codex general standards for food additives and contaminants and toxins in foods that contain both general and commodity specific provisions. The Codex General Standard for the Labelling of Pre-packaged Foods covers all foods in this category. Because standards relate to product characteristics, they can be applied wherever the products are traded. Codex methods of analysis and sampling, including those for contaminants and residues of pesticides and veterinary drugs in foods, are also considered Codex standards3,4.


JMPR - Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues

The Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) is an international expert scientific group that is administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). JMPR, which consists of the FAO Panel of Experts on Pesticide Residues in Food and the Environment and the WHO Core Assessment Group, has been meeting regularly since 1963. During the Meetings, the FAO Panel of Experts is responsible for reviewing residue and analytical aspects of the pesticides under consideration, including data on their metabolism, fate in the environment, and use patterns, and for estimating the maximum residue levels that might occur as a result of the use of the pesticides according to good agricultural practices. The WHO Core Assessment Group is responsible for reviewing toxicological and related data and for estimating, where possible, acceptable daily intakes (ADIs) for humans of the pesticides under consideration5.

JMPR serves as a scientific advisory body to FAO, WHO, to FAO and WHO member governments, and to the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Advice to the Codex Alimentarius Commission on pesticides is provided via the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues (CCPR).

Toxicological monographs are published after the meetings by WHO. These summarize the data used in the Meeting's evaluations and provide full references to the relevant literature. Most of the monographs that have been published are available on INCHEM6.

Residues monographs, which contain information on pesticide use patterns, data on the chemistry and composition of pesticides, methods of analysis for pesticide residues, and information on MRLs is published in the FAO Plant Production and Protection Paper series5.

JMPS – Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Specifications

Since 1971, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has developed and published specifications for pesticides and their related formulations. The specifications are designed to reflect generally acceptable product standards and to provide an international point of reference against which products can be judged, either for regulatory purposes or in commercial dealings, thus helping to prevent the trade of inferior products. They define the essential chemical and physical properties that may be linked to the efficacious and judicious use of a product.


In 2001, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) agreed to jointly develop specifications for pesticides. The joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Specifications (JMPS) meets annually and consists of experts drawn from governments and academic circles. The Expert Panels of FAO and WHO are composed of scientists collectively possessing expert knowledge of the development of specifications. The role of the Panel Members is to evaluate pesticide data submitted by pesticide companies in accordance with the “Manual on the development and use of FAO and WHO specifications for pesticides”7. When the specifications are accepted, FAO and WHO then publish the specification and the accompanying evaluation on the Internet. This initiative provides a unique, robust and universally applicable standard for pesticide quality.


CIPAC - Collaborative International Pesticides Analytical Council

CIPAC is international, non-profit-oriented and non-governmental organization devoted to: promoting the international agreement on methods for the analysis of pesticides and physico-chemical test methods for formulations and promoting inter-Iaboratory programmes for the evaluation of test methods. The methods are proposed by companies and are tested by laboratories all over the world. After evaluation of the results and adoption, the methods are published in the CIPAC Handbooks8.

CIPAC methods are for pesticide registration, for official post-registration control, for FAO and WHO Specifications etc. Currently there are 400 methods for pesticide a.i. (M-series), ~ 200 methods for physical and chemical properties (MT-series), as well as several methods for reagents etc. (R-series).


The methods are not available on the Internet but must be purchased from CIPAC.




1. Origins of the Codex Alimentarius; Understanding the Codex Alimentarius, p.5, 3rd Edition, WHO/FAO Rome 2006


2.  Codex and Science, Understanding the Codex Alimentarius, p.21, 3rd Edition, WHO/FAO Rome 2006


3.  What is the Codex Alimentarius? Understanding the Codex Alimentarius, p.10, 3rd Edition, WHO/FAO Rome 2006


4.  Codex Alimentarius, Current Official Standards


5.  International Program on Chemical Safety, About the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticides (JMPR)


6.  IPCS INCHEM Pesticide Documents


7.  Manual on the development and use of FAO and WHO specifications for pesticides, 1st Edition, WHO/FAO, Rome 2006


8. CIPAC – Summary




Last modified April 7th 2010


Date added: 2010-05-08 00:36:14   
Last Updated 2010-05-10 04:41:07   
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