Advisor at Japan Food Research Laboratories
Food Sanitation Act of Japan stipulates microbiological criteria/standards for foods in order to ensure food safety. Japanese food self-sufficiency ratio is as low as around 40% and our dietary life is dependent on imported foods from around the world. Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), an U.N. commission that deals with food, works so that people can eat safe foods anywhere on the globe (Figure1). In 1999, CAC adopted “General Principles of Food Hygiene” and then “Principles for Establishment and Application of Microbiological Criteria for Foods”. Japanese microbiological criteria for foods are becoming more harmonious and consistent with CAC principles. I am going to deal with CAC in this column and Japanese microbiological criteria for foods in the next one.
As shown in Figure1, CAC was established in 1963 by FAO and WHO as an U.N. intergovernmental institution. Its objectives are protecting consumers’ health, promoting fair trade of food, and so forth. CAC develops international food standards (Codex Alimetarius). Japan has been the member of CAC since 1966. Total number of member countries is 185 as of August 2015 and EU is accepted as an organization. CAC secretariat is installed within FAO headquarters in Rome as shown in Figure1.
CAC has 28 committees. Each committee is conducted by a host country selected from member countries. General assembly meetings have been held once a year since 2004. Only this general meeting can adopt criteria and standards. Executive Committee has been held twice in every three years since 2007.
General Subject Committees examine criteria, standards, and specifications that would be supplied to food in a cross-sectoral manner such as food additives, contaminants in foods, and food labeling. Commodity Committees deal with criteria for each food item. Corrdinating Committees discusses food standards for each region of the world and issues on food control at the area. Ad hoc Intergovernmental Task Forces study specified matters with a fixed term. Japan has hosted a task force on foods derived from biotechnology (Figure3).
CAC is supposed to control food safety risks internationally, and risk assessment based on risk analysis methods is out of their duties. Risk assessments are conducted at the following expert ad hoc meetings administered jointly by FAO and WHO. These meetings are independent from CAC and experts take part in these meetings as an individual.
(1) The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA): deals with food additives, contaminants in foods, and residues of veterinary drugs in foods.
(2) The Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR): deals with pesticide residues.
(3) The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meetings on Microbiological Risk Assessment (JEMRA): deals with microbiological risks on food.
World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international organization that deals with trade issues. This body is an U.N. agency based in Switzerland. WTO (1) protects lives and physical safety/health of citizens of each country, and (2) makes an agreement on promoting free trade (SPS Agreement, Note1). This agreement prohibits WTO member countries to take sanitary or phytosanitary measures which are not based upon international criteria specified after scientific risk assessments. Codex Alimetarius is positioned as an “international criteria specified after scientific risk assessments”.
Countries involved are required to comply with Codex Alimetarius in taking measures to protect domestic food safety against imported food items. SPS Agreement stipulates that WTO member countries “shall base their sanitary or phytosanitary measures on international standards, guidelines or recommendations”. This “international standard” refers to Codex Alimetarius.
If members may introduce sanitary or phytosanitary measures with a higher level of protection than Codex Alimetarius, they might be recognized as non-tariff impediments without scientific justification and be filed by WTO.
Food standards agreed at CAC will be the rules of international food trades and greatly influence on domestic food safety control. Therefore, each member country is trying to make its own standards incorporated into CAC standards as much as possible.
(Note1) Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare: Outline of Codex Alimentarius Commission
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare: Relationship between Codex Alimentarius and WTO Agreements