Counting Nitrogen Atoms – Part 6: The Codex

Determining Total Meat Content (Part 6): The Codex
By Eben van Tonder
7 January 2019

Codex Alimentarius Austriacus.jpg

Previous Installments in Counting Nitrogen Atoms

Part 1:  From the start of the Chemical Revolution to Boussingault

Part 2:  Von Liebig and Gerard Mulder’s theory of proteins

Part 3:  Understanding of Protein Metabolism Coming of Age

Part 4:  The Background of the History of Nutrition

Part 5: The Proximate Analysis, Kjeldahl and Jones (6.25)

Introduction – Germany

With Henneberg and Stohmann’s (1860, 1864) development of the Weende or Proximate System of feed evaluation, a consideration of some of the different methods for testing for N, 6.25 and the development of the Jones factors, and an introduction to what this tells us in terms of nutrition, we can begin to look at how the matter of meat composites are handled in different countries and regions around the world.  If we make a sausage with meat, fat, soy, starch and/ or rusk, and water with spices, when can we still call it a meat sausage and what percentage of meat do we declare?

In the EU we find a situation that one set of rules applies to everybody, but the various regional standards are still valid to some extent.  Before we look at the EU rules in terms of the classification and determination of meat content, we begin by reviewing the fascinating history of the creation of the Codex.  The relevance and the direct application to why the question of meat content is so important are fundamental to the creation of the Codex.

Ralf Lautenschlaeger and Matthias Upmann published an article in 2017 entitled, How meat is defined in the European Union and in Germany. They write, “Because the consumer habits and expectations differ within the EU member states, raw material descriptions and customary usage in the meat trade are described on a national basis. In Germany, guidelines for meat and processed meats (Leitsätze für Fleisch und Fleischerzeugnisse, 2015) are part of the “Deutsche Lebensmittelbuch” (German Food Book), which is a collection of guidelines describing the manufacture, composition, and the characteristic properties of food. It is neither a legal norm nor a regulation or act but gives orientation in terms of how to trade and label food, comparable to an objectified expert opinion. They are preferentially applied for legal clearance of the question whether a practice is misleading as defined by the regulations of the food law. It should be mentioned that the “Deutsche Lebensmittelbuch” is based on the Austrian “Codex Alimentarius Austriacus” published in 1891.

This last statement leads us down one of the most fascinating rabbit trails in the grand story of the definition of meat in meat formulations to the Codex.

This chapter is based on a 2015 article I did entitle The Life and Times of Ladislav NACHMÜLLNER – The Codex Alimentarius Austriacus.


This article examines the general state of food science in Vienna and Prague during the creation of the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus and the international movement that culminated in the creation of the Codex Alimentarius Commission of the World Health Organisation.

We will show how this environment of superior technology and leadership related to food science that existed in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of the Codex was addressing the exact same issues which governments address in legislating how meat content is determined.


By the time the master-butcher from Prague, Ladislav Nachmüllner, registered his patent for Praganda, the direct use of nitrites in food was legal in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  It was the first country on earth to legalise this, even before it was legal in Germany.  Praganda became the first commercial nitrite-based curing brine.  Sodium Nitrite was by this time already used directly in curing plants around the world but did so in secret.  Even NACHMÜLLNER did not advertise the fact that his curing mix contained sodium nitrite.  (Ladislav NACHMÜLLNER vs The Griffith Laboratories)

Ladislav NACHMÜLLNER, the master-butcher from Prague and inventor of the first commercial sodium nitrite based curing mix, Praganda.

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) published an article on 22 September 1898 about the Slavs or Czech’s in Bohemia (referring to the entire Czech territory), that they are like “a young man who has come of age”; being surrounded on all sides by the industrious Germans, and they have “learned much, nay, all, from them and in all departments of culture they have kept pace with them and have now overtaken them.”

Many other food innovations came from here.  Bone-in and boneless hams originated here and the ham press used by butchers and in factories around the world, to this day, almost exactly in the form it was first invented in Prague.

Another case in point is Pilsner beer, named after the city of Pilsen (Plzen).  The innovation was the application of steam power to the production of chilled lager.  It was an important improvement on the old processes and helped the town of Pilsen to become one of the great European beer producers. (Turmock, D.;1989: 40)

Another Bohemian innovation was the invention of the sugar beet refining process through diffusion to produce refined sugar.  “The diffusion process was discovered in Seelowitz  (Zidlochovice) in Moravia by J. Robert, the son of the founder of the first sugar beer factory in the Czech lands.”  Within a few years, 25 other factories converted to this process and sugar refining machines were being exported to Germany and France.  The Prague-based engineering firm of C. Danek (founded in 18540) was particularly successful. (Turmock, D.;1989: 40)

The most famous invention was the Codex.  The Codex Alimentarius Austriacus, as the forerunner of the Coxed, as we know it today, originated here.  The creation of the Codex is by itself an amazing story, seldom told and shows how advanced the level of sophistication was in this part of the world in all matters related to food chemistry.  A heritage that makes Prague in many respects the food capital of the world to this day.


The impetus for developing food standards was in Vienna, as it was around the world, in response to the scourge of food adulteration.  Food adulteration was on its part the result of the development of colourants and chemical preservatives from the coal-tar dye industry in the mid-1800s and the chemical synthesis industry, before the invention in the 1840’s of, and wide-scale application towards the end of the 1800s of refrigeration  (Concerning Chemical Synthesis and Food Additives)

The journalist, activist and political writer, Paul Lafargue, said it well in his 1883 publication that, “Our time will be called the age of falsification”. “In Brussels, saucissons dits de Bologne were made from the meat of horses that were sick or had died of contagious disease. This did not upset people. A French butcher replied to an angry mayor, “You don’t need to worry about the health of our fellow citizens, Sir, for I am selling unwholesome meat only to the troops!””  (PATRICK ZYLBERMAN, P.  Med Hist. 2004 Jan 1; 48(1): 1–28)

The big issues of the day, flowing out of the problem of food adulteration, were food hygiene, labelling, the testing of final products in the marketplace, inspection during food production and international borders as an effective barrier against importing of animal diseases and harmful foods.  These matters did not all receive equal priority early on.  At first, the focus was on the use of international borders and import regulations as a way of safeguarding local populations against harmful foods and national herds against disease.  Labeling was driven by consumer demand.  “Throughout the nineteenth century, consumers had often lodged complaints about the absence of labels.”   Food was inspected only in the marketplace since provisions for controls at manufacturers were lacking. (PATRICK ZYLBERMAN, P.  Med Hist. 2004 Jan 1; 48(1): 1–28)

Vienna was leading the world in food safety and standards, but this does not mean that it was not an issue around the world.  In 1879, the German Food Law came into force.  (Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227. Vojir, F., Schübl, E. and Elmadfa, I)  In the USA, the Pure Food and Drug Act came into force in 1906.  A movement started to develop which called for trade regulations that would link trade and hygiene.  The ideas that formed the Codex Alimentarius or Food Code was in the air during the 1870’s and 1880’s.

France, for example, “modeled its regulations on food on proposals emanating from several international congresses.  As a consequence of international hygiene congresses in 1878, 1882 and 1887, Paul Brouardel, a French pathologist, hygienist, and member of the Académie Nationale de Médecine, along with Bouley and others, called for national as well as international regulations.  In Europe and the United States, chemists joined the ranks of those asking for inspections.”   (PATRICK ZYLBERMAN, P.  Med Hist. 2004 Jan 1; 48(1): 1–28)


The 1890’s saw the germination of these seeds and the creation of the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus.  I was fortunate enough to find the transcripts of the series of meetings that birthed the concept.


On 12 October 1891, a meeting took place at the Imperial Academy of Sciences, in Vienna, chaired by Prof Ernst Ludwig, of the Assembly of Food chemists and Microscopists where a suggestion was tabled for the establishment of a Scientific Commission which would develop the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus. Ludwig was the professor of applied medical chemistry and the first head of the Institute for medicinal chemistry at the University of Vienna. (Schübl, E.,  Vojir, F.. 12.10.2011.  120 Jahre Codex Alimentarius Austriacus)


This suggestion came about as follows.  “At this meeting, two proposals were submitted for formal voting, which can be seen as the starting point in establishing a food codex.”  (Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227)

The honour for the first suggestion for the codex goes to Dutch scientist, Paul Francois van Hamel-Roos, who suggested that single states should prepare national codices from which would be drafted an international codex. “In addition, the Austrian, Hans Heger, proposed the creation of a commission in Austria, which should prepare the Austrian codex – the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus.  (Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227)

Dr. first suggestion for the codex was tabled by the Dutch scientist, Paul Francois van Hamel-Roos

Dr Leonhard Rösler (Head of the chemical-physiological research station for Viticulture and Pomology in Klosterneuburg) (Schübl, E.,  Vojir, F.. 12.10.2011), however, pointed out that Austria would likely have to produce a codex and then to prompt the other countries to produce similar works. In fact, the ensuing progress was very close to this prediction.”  (Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227)


The very next day, 13 October 1891, the Austrian commission, called the “Scientific Commission” was installed which would draft the Codex.  Twenty-three drafts later, the work on the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus stopped due to various difficulties.  The last meeting was held on 25 April 1898. The participating scientists worked entirely on private initiatives. (Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227)

The work on the Codex did not become an anchor for Austrian food law that was being drafted due to pressure from the economic sector.  They were notably excluded from the work of the Scientific Commission.  A deputy in the House of Representatives, Wilhelm Neuber, remarked that those who represent economic interest in relation to food adulteration stood with “one foot in the crime.”  (Schübl, E.,  Vojir, F.. 12.10.2011.  120 Jahre Codex Alimentarius Austriacus)  The creation of the Codex was largely suspended till 1907.

The Austrian Food Law came into force in 1897.  Problems soon arose due to discrepancies in the analysis of and the experts’ opinions on food samples. The producers and food traders pressured the government to complete the work on the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus to minimize these discrepancies.  In light of these pressures, in 1907, the Ministry of the Interior installed a the Codex commission in charge of preparing the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus. (Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227)

“Based on the drafts of the “Scientific Commission,” the work for the first edition of the Austrian Codex started. Between 1911 and 1917 three volumes, consisting of 55 chapters concerning food, cosmetics, and items of practical use, e.g. kitchenware, food contact material, toys, were completed.”  (Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227)

“In the introductory ordinance of the Ministry of the Interior that was published with the first volume of the Austrian Codex in 1911, the intended purpose of the Codex was given as follows:

• For producers and traders, it should be a source of information on the working criteria of the official control authority

• It should be a working directive for the official laboratories and control authorities

• For the judges basing their decisions on the food law, it should be an albeit non-binding source of technical information

These goals are still valid for the current version of the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus.”  (Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227)

This is how in the Austro-Hungarian state, a food code, known as the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus was created between 1897 and 1917.


A second set of conferences would now take centre stage and further the initial suggestion by Paul Francois van Hamel-Roos, of an international Codex that would flow out of the various regional works.  The Congress of Applied Chemists would become the cradle of the idea.

The first Congress of Applied Chemists was held in Brussels in 1894. It was an initiative of Dr H. W. Wiley.  Dr Wiley was a noted American chemist best known for his leadership in the passage of the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 in the USA.  The conference in Brussels was divided into four sections. Sugar Chemistry, Agricultural Chemistry, Food, and Public Hygiene and Biological Chemistry. 2000 delegates were in attendance. (Ind. Eng. Chem., 1912, 4 (10), pp 706–707)


“At the second Congress of Applied Chemistry, held in Paris in 1896, an international Codex was proposed for coupling trade with hygiene. Successive conferences would take up this proposal with hardly any change in its wording. Belgium played an instrumental role in this process.”  (PATRICK ZYLBERMAN, P.  Med Hist. 2004 Jan 1; 48(1): 1–28)

The third Congress of Applied Chemistry was held in Vienna on 27 July 1898, the birthplace of the initial Codex. This congress was divided into twelve sections.  One of the principal questions before Congress was the adoption of a uniform method of analysis of commercial products and raw materials.  (PATRICK ZYLBERMAN, P.  Med Hist. 2004 Jan 1; 48(1): 1–28)

The section for food and medicine chemistry were occupied with the drafting of the Codex Alimentarius (food rules) which was …proposed to this Congress for the first time in Paris.  It would deal with the question “what is to be demanded of the ordinary articles of food.”  It states the problem very simply as the fact that “competition has cheapened food, but hand in hand with this reduction in price goes, particularly in Germany, their deterioration.”  How apt is this description! I could have been a sentence from this morning’s newspapers!  The international Codex was intended to “afford the public, magistrates, and honest middle-men, a means of combating this dishonest competition.” (The Sydney Morning Herald)

“Some pundits resented France’s influence in these various international meetings. Joseph Ruau, French Minister of Agriculture (and author of the 1905 act) declared at the 1909 Paris meeting that honesty in business, hygiene, and international cooperation could be harmoniously linked. He thought all this should become part of a Codex Alimentarius. This did not mean that border controls (poorly organized in France at the time) were not worthwhile: after all, such harmonization was far from being realized. Ruau was not alone in holding this opinion.”  (PATRICK ZYLBERMAN, P.  Med Hist. 2004 Jan 1; 48(1): 1–28)

While the ideals of an international Codex remained largely unfulfilled till after World War II and the creation of the World Health Organization, the development of the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus continued.

In Vienna, “the Codex Commission was reintroduced in 1921 by the Federal Ministry of Social Administration. The aim was to produce a second edition of  the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus considering the latest developments in science and economy. This work was interrupted in 1939.”  (Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227)

“The Codex Commission was reinstalled in 1946 and emerged as an institution under whose umbrella all stakeholders like producers, traders, consumers, scientists, and official authorities can discuss and resolve problems arising. The organization is flexible enough to keep the single chapters of the Codex concerning foodstuffs, cosmetics, and items of practical use in conformance with the current technical and legal standards.  Corresponding to modern technologies the actual chapters of the fourth edition can be downloaded from the home page of the responsible ministry, which at present is the Ministry of Health.”  (Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227)

Internationally, the problem of food poisoning would attract more attention from international organizations following the Second World War. Between 1953 and 1958 several conferences were held around the world that advanced the possibility of an international Codex and sought to deal with the issue of food additives.  (PATRICK ZYLBERMAN, P.  Med Hist. 2004 Jan 1; 48(1): 1–28)

“In 1958 a Permanent Council of the Codex Alimentarius—an old ambition—was set up with nineteen governments represented.  The name given to the commission was after the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus where the idea of a global food standard started to become concrete. The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) / World Health Organization (WHO) Codex Alimentarius Commission organized its first meeting in Rome in June 1963: thirty countries and sixteen international organizations attended.”  (PATRICK ZYLBERMAN, P.  Med Hist. 2004 Jan 1; 48(1): 1–28)

On 1 July 1991, Dr B. P. Dutia, Assistant Director-General Economic and Social Policy Department, World Health Organization, spoke at the opening of the Nineteenth Session of the CODEX ALIMENTARIUS COMMISSION.  He said that on “October 1891, a decision was made in Vienna to establish a Codex Alimentarius Austriacus which would seek to protect the legitimate interests of consumers and establish uniform principles for testing and evaluating foods for safety. This idea of codified food standards was the forerunner of today’s international Codex Alimentarius Commission.”  (Dr B.P. Dutia, 1991)

This commission set the rules on food that are used in national legislation and industry food safety audits.  This is the theatre where the leading thinking on food safety and pure foods play out.


The leading question and task by the second International Congress of Applied Chemists, held in Paris in 1896, where the establishment of an international Codex was proposed, ring in our ears.  “What is to be demanded of the ordinary articles of food.”  The question to consider was the fact that “competition has cheapened food, but hand in hand with this reduction in price goes, particularly in Germany, their deterioration.”  This is the fundamental issue that is addressed in the determination of the question: if we mix rusk or soy or starch into ground meat, with water and fat, to make sausage or any other article of food, can we still call it a meat product and what is the percentage meat we declare on the food label?  This is the essence of the current consideration and the background to the Codex enlightens us as to its primary objectives.

Return to Index page.

(c) eben van tonder

Join us on Facebook:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is eartwormexpress-facebook.png

If I got something wrong which you want to correct or if you have information to contribute, please contact me on:

+27 (0)71 5453029


Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res., 82 (3), 2012, 223 – 227.   Vojir, F., Schübl, E.(1) and Elmadfa, I (2)       The Origins of a Global Standard for Food Quality and Safety: Codex Alimentarius Austriacus and FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius.  1 Bureau of the Codex Commission, Ministry of Health, Vienna, Austria;  2 Institute of Nutritional Sciences, University of Vienna, Austria

Ind. Eng. Chem., 1912, 4 (10), pp 706–707.  International Congress of Applied Chemistry.

Ladislav Nachmüllner vulgo Praganda,  Nachmüllnerová, Eva Editor, Nakladatelské údaje: Tábar : OSSIS, 2000

Opening Statement by Dr. B.P. Dutia, Assistant Director-General Economic and Social Policy Department, FAO to the Nineteenth Session of the CODEX ALIMENTARIUS COMMISSION.  Produced by:  Agriculture and Consumer Protection of the WHO. 1 July 1991

PATRICK ZYLBERMAN, P.  Med Hist. 2004 Jan 1; 48(1): 1–28  Making Food Safety an Issue: Internationalized Food Politics and French Public Health from the 1870s to the Present

Lautenschlaeger, R, and Matthias, M..  2017. How meat is defined in the European Union and in Germany.  Animal Frontiers, Volume 7, Issue 4, 1 October 2017, Pages 57–59, Published: 01 October 2017

Schübl, E.,  Vojir, F.. 12.10.2011.  120 Jahre Codex Alimentarius Austriacus – Die Geschichte eines erfolgreichen Weges.

The Sydney Morning Herald.  (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia)  22 September 1898.


Image Credits:

Ladislav NACHMÜLLNER:   from vulgo Praganda.

Paul Brouardel:

Ernst Ludwig:

Paul Francois van Hamel-Roos:


Dr. H. W. Wiley: