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Codex Alimentarius Commission adopts new standards to protect consumers and ease trade

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, which ended its latest session on 7 July, adopted new standards on the maximum allowable levels of a number of key contaminants and food additives in order to protect the health of consumers. The standards set the maximum allowable amounts of contaminants such as lead and cadmium in certain foods. Additionally, newly adopted codes of practice will give guidance to governments on how to prevent and reduce dioxins and aflatoxins in food.

Moreover, many of the standards adopted will contribute to greater choice for consumers, as the establishment of international standards for several milk-based products and for instant noodles, for example, will facilitate their international trade and enable them to reach consumers worldwide.

"This has been an extraordinarily productive session, attended by a record number of 110 countries and approximately 400 delegates. The attendance of 24 countries was supported by the Codex trust fund. We have passed a range of standards which will make a substantial difference in the safety and quality of the food people eat. In addition, people in developing countries will have the ability to earn better livings through trading these foods internationally," said Dr Claude Mosha of Tanzania, Chairperson of the Codex Commission.

Protecting consumers' health was a major theme of the standards adopted. The contaminants considered during this session have considerable health impacts. Lead can cause a wide range of disorders, including anaemia and hepatic and neurological disorders and food can be a major route of exposure. Cadmium can provoke kidney damage after long periods of exposure. Aflatoxins cause liver cancer and dioxins and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are both highly toxic as well as carcinogenic.

The new standards adopted will go a long way towards protecting human health, as they set out new, maximum limits for lead in fish, cadmium in rice, marine bivalve molluscs and cephalopods. New codes of practice for reducing aflatoxin contamination in Brazil nuts, and dioxin and dioxin-like PCB contamination in food and feed will help countries take measures to protect consumers from exposure to these substances.

Codex also created a Task Force to address the issue of antimicrobial resistance in food of animal origin. This Task Force will have a mandate to develop risk assessment policies and strategies to reduce food safety risks associated with certain uses of antimicrobials in animal production, including aquaculture.

The Commission further addressed several organizational issues during the week-long session. It split the existing Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants because of its large workload and created two new specialized committees, the Codex Committee on Food Additives and the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food. China was designated by the membership as host of the Food Additives Committee, and also of the Committee on Pesticide Residues, while the Netherlands was designated as host to the Committee on Contaminants in Food.

Dr Claude J S Mosha (Tanzania) was re-elected as the Chairperson of the Commission. Ms Karen Hulebak (United States), Ms Noraini M Othman (Malaysia) and Mr Wim Van Eck (Netherlands) were rel-elected as the Commission's three Vice-Chairpersons.

The Commission presently meets once a year to review and eventually adopt international food standards, guidelines and recommendations developed by its network of 21 specialist committees that address technical issues associated with these texts. It meets in alternate years in Rome and Geneva. The excellent attendance rate at this session enabled the Commission to reach a quorum and to pass important changes to its rules of procedure as part of the reform process.

"Codex is one of the best examples where an international forum with parallel objectives of promoting public health and food trade can achieve win-win solutions through negotiations based on sound science and conducted in the spirit of cooperation," commented Dr Mosha.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is the international food standards setting body of the United Nations, a joint venture of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It is the longest standing example of interagency cooperation in the UN system. It has 173 Member States and one Member Organization (the European Community).

For more information contact:

Gregory Hartl
Communications Adviser, Health and Sustainable Development
Mobile phone: +41 79 2036715