Standardisation Initiatives for Food Authenticity

Food laws were among some of the earliest enactments for which records exist, and can be traced back to times of the earliest societies (Lásztity, Petró-Turza and Földesi, 2009).

Governments over many centuries have endeavoured to provide for the safety and wholesomeness of food by legal provisions and appropriate punitive action. The big changes in food production and distribution because of the industrialization and rapid growth of urban population, together with public health problems, resulted in the production of many food laws in industrialized nations during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The early twentieth century saw the creation of a separate branch of food law with the establishment of most of the national standards organisations in Europe.

The need for improved health and food control, as well as a rapidly expanding international food trade stimulated cooperation on an international level. A process of intensive international standardisation was initiated, and which resulted in the establishment of a framework for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) shortly after World War II.

A brief summary of global standardisation initiatives for food authenticity testing has been compiled here. Standardisation work in progress on terms and definitions can be found on the Definitions page.

National and International Legislation

It is the responsibility of food businesses to provide food that is safe and what it says it is on the label. The labelling of food products is essential to inform consumers what kind of products they are buying. Today, harmonised rules on food labelling, presentation, and advertising, is in the form of national and international legislation, for example (EEC) No 2568/91 for olive oil, which serve to protect consumers and facilitate trade.

The Codex Alimentarius (CAC)

A Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Program was established in 1962, and a joint subsidiary body was created: the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) the purpose of which is “promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and nongovernmental organizations” (according to statutes of the CAC) to protect consumer health and promote fair practices in food trade.

According to “Glossary of terms”—published in 1976 by FAO/WHO—food standards may be defined as a body of rules or legislation defining certain criteria, such as composition, appearance, freshness, source, sanitation, maximum bacterial count, purity, and maximum concentration of additives—which food must fulfil to be suitable for distribution or sale. The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of food standards, guidelines and codes of practice adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). The current 188 CAC members have negotiated science-based recommendations in all areas related to food safety and quality.

Codex food safety texts are also referenced in World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade disputes. 

CAC publishes lists of approved test methods. The test methods are proposed by CODEX commodity committees and are subject to approval by the CODEX Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling (CCMAS).

The table below summarises the most relevant lists of CODEX approved standards. 

Standard number Title Date Comments
STAN 234 Recommended Methods of Analysis and Sampling 1999 (Updated 2014) Lists methods for many CODEX provisions including authenticity methods for fruit juices
STAN 239 General Methods of Analysis for Food Additives 003 Artificial sweeteners, nitrate/nitrite and sulphites
STAN 231 General Codex Methods for the Detection of Irradiated Foods 2001 Various methods for detection of irradiation
STAN 228 General Methods of Analysis for Contaminants 2001 Approved methods for some general contaminant

Further information about CCMAS, including information about the designation of CODEX recommended methods and translations of the above Standards, can be found on the CCMAS committee home page.

In addition to these general methods of analysis, Codex has published 341 Standards, many of which deal with specific foods. Each of these commodity standards has a section on Methods of Analysis and Sampling, some of which have methods appropriate to the authenticity of the food.

At its 23rd meeting, the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS) agreed to form an electronic working group (EWG) to review other Codex texts and to create a definition and scope for Food Fraud/ Food Integrity/ Food Authenticity/ related terms. Creating the EWG is a formal activity for Codex that will initiate a review of how Food Fraud will be incorporated into the formal Codex Alimentarius (world food code). This work is currently in progress, via the EWG, with input from relevant Codex committees (CCEURO, CCMAS as well as a number of the commodity committees). 

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organisation with a membership of 165 national standards bodies. It brings together experts to share knowledge and develop voluntary, consensus-based, market relevant international standards to support innovation and provide solutions to global measurement challenges. ISO committee ISO/TC 34 - Food products and its subcommittees develop standardised terminology, sampling, methods of test and analysis, product specifications, food and feed safety and quality management and requirements for packaging, storage, and transportation in relation to human and animal foodstuffs, covering the food chain from primary production to consumption, as well as animal and vegetable propagation materials. Specifically, ISO 22000 Food Safety Management systems added a footnote that confirms the scope includes “food fraud” root causes.

There are many published ISO Standards on a whole range of food commodities; many of these are looking at the definition and the specification of the food rather than its authenticity. However, at the time of writing this report (2021), the following Sub-Committees (SC) and Working Groups (WG) are working on the standardisation of methods related to food integrity:                    
• ISO/TC34/SC16 - Horizontal methods for molecular biomarker analysis. The scope of this SC is standardisation of biomolecular testing methods applied to foods, feeds, seeds and ther propagules of food and feed crops including methods that analyse nucleic acids [e.g., polymerase chain reaction (PCR), genotypic analysis and sequencing], proteins [e.g., enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)], and other suitable methods, and variety identification and detection of plant pathogens.
o ISO/TC34/SC16/WG8 Meat Speciation
o ISO/TC34/SC16/WG9 Subsampling of seeds and grains
o ISO/TC34/SC16/WG10 Rapid nucleic acid amplification methods
o ISO/TC34/SC16/WG11 Biobanking for agriculture and food production
o ISO/TC34/SC16/WG12 Molecular biomarker for agricultural fibres.
• ISO/TC34/SC24 - Quantitative NMR. This is a newly formed SC led by Japan that is aimed at standardisation of methods to establish the purity of food relevant substances.
• ISO/TC 34/SC 19 - Bee products (including WG 1 on Honey), aimed at standardisation of the whole process and circulation of bee products, including but not limited to the following:
products standards, basic standards, beekeeping practices, quality standards, testing method standards and storage and transportation standards.

Other groups

GFSI is an industry group which has a membership of approximately 65+% of the world food trade. The GFSI requirement are the primary benchmark for food safety management system standards based on ISO
22000 in such as BRC, IFS, SQF, FSSC, and others. The key participants include food producers and retailers who require the standard to be met often through their entire upstream supply chains. The food fraud requirements were mandated since January 2018 and reinforced in a May 2018 technical document. GFSI has a formal and clear definition of food fraud as well as structured requirements for a food fraud vulnerability assessment and food fraud mitigation plan. These requirements must be documented in the food safety
management system.