It is a universally accepted idea that people have the right to expect their food to be safe, good quality and suitable for consumption.
In the 1940s, rapid progress was made in food science and technology. With the advent of more sensitive analytical tools, knowledge about the nature of food, its quality and associated health hazards also grew quickly.
Articles about food at all levels flourished, and consumers were inundated with messages in popular magazines, the tabloid press and on the radio. Some were correct, some incorrect and some sensationalized – but the genuine interest in the topic reflected a shift in public consciousness about food. Knowledge about food safety grew as a consequence.
At the same time, as ever more information about food became available, there was greater consciousness on the part of consumers. Whereas, previously, consumers’ concerns had extended only as far as “visibles” – underweight contents, size variations, misleading labelling and poor quality – they now embraced a fear of “invisibles” – potential health hazards due to micro-organisms, excessive pesticide residues, environmental contaminants and inappropriate food additives that could not be seen, smelled or tasted.
Well organised consumer groups began to place growing pressure on Governments worldwide to protect people from poor quality and hazardous foods.
Today Codex is able to claim authority in the field of international standard setting precisely because these same consumer associations are active in Codex, playing a vital role to ensure that Codex texts are of the highest quality.
Consumer groups are considered observer organisations to Codex.
There are currently more than 20 international consumer associations accredited to Codex.
Consumer groups speak at Codex meetings. They are recognised as delegates and called after member countries. They are not allowed to vote but their ideas and concerns are valued throughout Codex and they make a valuable contribution to the development of Codex texts.
Consumer associations provide a public perspective. They act as a counterbalance to the views of countries and industry.