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UN food safety and quality standards commission meets

Session expected to adopt new standards for vitamin supplements and foods

The Codex Alimentarius Commission meets from today to 9 July, with representatives from more than 100 countries present. The meeting aims to adopt a number of new or revised food safety and quality standards that will help safeguard the health of consumers worldwide and improve food quality and agricultural trade opportunities.

One of the draft standards up for consideration, on vitamin and mineral labelling, has caused controversy recently. It is designed to give consumers information about maximum consumption levels for vitamin and mineral food supplements - taking into account the fact that too high an intake can cause health problems. The draft standard aims to guarantee that the minimum levels of vitamins and mineral supplements claimed to be present in a product are actually present.

The basis for the proposed new international guidelines already exists as part of the national framework in some Codex Member States. If adopted by Codex, the guidelines would not replace existing national standards, or create new national rules where none exist. They could however be used as guidance by countries choosing to increase consumer information on maximum consumption levels of vitamin and mineral food supplements. No action of Codex could cause those vitamin and mineral food supplements currently sold over the counter to become subject to prescriptions.

According to Kazuaki Miyagishima, Secretary of the Codex Alimentarius Commission: “The guidelines are meant to help national authorities when they are considering what standards to adopt for their countries. The guidelines would help consumers to use these supplements in a safe and effective way through improved information on the label.”

Codex, a joint Commission of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), will also consider two new codes of practice covering hygienic practice for meat and minimizing and containing antimicrobial resistance.

Some ten individual codes for hygienic meat practices are likely to be replaced by a new science-based meat-hygiene code. Both the new codes were prepared in cooperation with the World Organization for Animal Health, the OIE, as well as FAO and WHO.

"We look forward to the potential adoption of these standards as the work done by Codex in these and other areas is key to creating a global level playing field for food safety standards," commented Dr Kerstin Leitner, WHO Assistant Director-General for Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments.

This week’s Codex meeting will also consider new safety standards for the prevention and reduction of aflatoxin contamination in tree nuts, and is expected to adopt principles for food certification by electronic means, which would ease red tape in international food trading.

Another issue before the commission is the question of geographical indication and the relationship of Codex to other international agreements covering this concept. The issue has arisen in the specific context of Parmesan cheese, but any Codex quality standard for products with a geographical indication depends on how this issue is resolved. This issue has been pending in Codex for several years because the opinions of member countries are, so far, divided.

More than 30 developing countries have been funded to attend the present session of the Codex Commission by the FAO/WHO Codex Trust Fund.

Hartwig de Haen, FAO Assistant Director-General, said the two Organizations would continue to try to improve developing country participation in the Codex decision-making process by strengthening their capacities at the national level to set up and administer food control systems.

“Technical assistance programmes by FAO and WHO support the efforts of developing countries to strengthen their national food safety systems to protect local consumers and to take advantage of international food trade opportunities,” de Haen said.

The 28th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission runs from 4–9 July at FAO Headquarters in Rome.

For more information contact:

Mr Gregory Hartl
Communications Adviser, Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments
Telephone: +41 22 791 4458
Mobile phone: +41 79 203 6715
Fax: +41 22 791 4725

Mr John Riddle
Information Officer
Food and Agriculture Organization
Harare, Zimbabwe
Telephone: +39 348 257 2921