Connect Learn Finance

Redirect notice

You are being redirected to the platform Enko where you can access 100% free resources to boost your business. This is a collaboration between Visa and Connectamericas for Women.


What rules should companies follow to export food?

The Codex Alimentarius is a compilation of international standards for the production of food. Under a World Trade Organization agreement, States can regulate the entry of food to their countries in accordance with these rules. 

Share this article

Published by ConnectAmericas

Main Image

Normally, when consumers reach the supermarket aisles they ask themselves several questions depending on their taste and preference before making any buying decisions: which of the products offered is more tempting, which has less calories, which gives you more value for your money, which has more shelf life?

However, there are two questions that consumers don’t ask because they trust they have already been answered by authorities. The first is if the products inside the packages match what the labels say: if the cheese is labeled “mozzarella” the color should be clear and its consistency soft, which is what defines this type of cheese; if it is labeled “cheddar” it should be orange and have a firm, soft and waxy texture, accordingly. The second question is if the products are fit for human consumption. Consumers trust that food will only have the permitted additives and that certain health standards have been met, assuring that the product is safe to eat.


Which mechanisms guarantee these two questions? Each country has local rules that apply to products sold in their territories. However, there are certain international standards that in addition to being used by countries in their domestic regulations – also apply to imported products.

Countries are not technically required to follow these standards, but following the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary measures, they have the obligation to prove that any trade restriction has a scientific basis. According to this treaty, a way of proving the scientific basis is to follow international standards. In other words, if a country stipulates rules on labeling, hygiene, or sanitary procedures, it is advisable to lay out these rules based on international standards to avoid them being brought before the WTO as a protectionist measure. In other words, indirectly countries usually accept these standards as valid rules.

Since governments effectively follow these rules it is important for food exporters to know what these internationals standards are and to take them into account upon manufacturing their products.


In 1962 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) created a Codex Alimentarius Commission by gathering a group of experts to prepare food product standards. Frode Veggeland and Svein Ole Borgen, researchers from the Norwegian Agricultural Economics Research Institute, explain that today the Codex is “the most important reference point for developments associated with food standards.”

A Codex Alimentarius Commission publication indicates that “the largest number of specific standards in the Codex Alimentarius is the group called “commodity standards”. These standards consist of a compendium of regulations published by the Commission, which stipulate guidelines for certain food groups (fish and fishery products, fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and milk products, etc.) The following information categories are included for each product:

  • Scope, i.e., the name of the food to which the standard applies. For example: mozzarella cheese, legumes or milk powder. 
  • Description, which according to the Codex Commission  “includes a definition of the 
  • product or products covered with an indication, where appropriate, of the raw materials from which they are derived.” For example, it explains the consistency of the different cheese types, their color, whether or not they have rind. Hence, it is not possible to label a cheese without rind as brie, or an orange cheese as mozzarella.  
  • Essential composition, which “includes information on the composition and identity characteristics of the commodity, as well as any compulsory and optional ingredients.” Again, a cheese made with goat milk cannot be called “mozzarella”.
  • Food additives, contains “the names of the additives and the maximum amount to be added to the food.” Hence, the Codex guarantees that additives will not modify the essential composition of the product and that they will not pose a threat to human health.
  • Possible contaminants and limits that may occur in the product. 
  • Code of hygienic practices for the commodity concerned.
  • Weights and measures common to the product. 
  • Labeling includes “provisions on the name of the food and any special requirements to ensure that the consumer is not deceived or misled about the nature of the food.”
  • Methods of analysis and sampling, “contains a list of the test methods needed to ensure that the commodity conforms to the requirements of the standard. References are made to internationally recognized test methods that meet the Commission’s criteria for accuracy, precision, etc.”

Compendium of commodity standards of the Codex Alimentarius:

Share this article


Comisión del Codex Alimentarius. Qué es el Codex Alimentarius. Tercera edición. Roma: Secretaría del Codex, 2006. 

Veggeland, Frode y Borgen, Svein Ole. Negotiating International Food Standards: The World Trade Organization's Impact on the Codex Alimentarius Commission. En Governance, Vol. 18, 2005, páginas 675–708. 


{{'LOADING_COMMENTS' | translate}}...
{{'NO_COMMENTS_YET' | translate}}
{{'TO_POST_A_COMMENT' | translate}}

Other users also viewed


Sign In to ConnectAmericas

By creating an account with ConnectAmericas you are accepting
the Privacy Policy and the Terms and Conditions

Enter the e-mail you used when you registered for ConnectAmericas to create a new password