Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Food Law News - FAO / WHO / WTO / Codex - 2015

FAO News Item, 6-11 July 2015

CODEX – Items discussed at the 38th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission

For links to further information on the items listed below, see the original FAO News Item: FAO 6-11 July 2015

The United Nations food standards body Codex Alimentarius Commission met in Geneva from 6 to 11 July 2015 to examine food safety and quality standards. Charged with protecting consumer health and ensuring fair practices in the food trade, the Codex Alimentarius is a joint initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Decisions taken at the 38th session of the Commission are as follows:

Guidelines for the control of Trichinella spp. parasites in pork

Food-producing animals may have parasites. Trichinella is a parasite that may be found in the meat of pigs and other animals. When humans eat meat produced by animals infected with Trichinella that is raw or undercooked, some parasites may remain and cause acute and severe illness. Laws requiring intensive carcass testing to ensure meat is not infected with Trichinella have been part of veterinary public health practices for more than a century. However, in areas where the risk of pigs carrying Trichinella is negligible, farmers are no longer required to test each individual carcass. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted risk-based guidelines to ensure that all pig meat is safe, while freeing up food control resources to be used where they are most needed. Pig meat from negligible risk areas can be traded without extensive testing, whereas carcasses from areas where Trichinella may infect pigs will continue to be tested rigorously.

A new worldwide standard for ginseng products

Ginseng is a plant root, and it is an ingredient in many products, including food. It can be consumed in dried form, steamed, or extracted. In 2009, the Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted an Asian regional standard to ensure the quality of ginseng products. The Commission has now approved its conversion into a worldwide standard. The standard applies to ginseng products used as a food or food ingredient and does not apply to products used for medicinal purposes. This worldwide standard specifies the identity and essential composition and quality factors that ginseng products used as foods should comply with to ensure fair practices in their trade.

A nutrition labelling reference value for potassium

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)-such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases-are the biggest cause of illness and premature death worldwide. A low intake of potassium is associated with a number of NCDs. Increasing consumption of potassium may reduce blood pressure, decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke and have beneficial effects on bone-mineral density. It can also reduce the negative effects of high sodium intake. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted a reference value for potassium-i.e. intake level to achieve 3,500 mg of potassium per day for adults-to be included in its Guideline on Nutrition Labelling. This follows the adoption of reference values on sodium and saturated fats, and is part of the Codex's efforts to take into consideration the increasing public health problems of obesity and NCDs.

Maximum levels of lead in fruit, juices and canned foods

Lead is a chemical that exists in the environment-in the air, water, plants, etc. If humans consume too much lead it is detrimental to their health. Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead. The Codex Alimentarius Commission recommends that no more than 0.1 mg of lead per kg should be permitted in certain canned fruit and vegetables, 0.03 mg per kg for fruit juices and nectars, and 0.05 mg per kg for juices made from berries and other small fruits, amongst other maximum levels for fruits and vegetables.

Maximum levels of toxins produced by a certain mould that can grow on grains, flours, and cereal-based foods for infants and young children

Deoxynivalenol (also known as DON or "vomitoxin") is a toxin produced by a certain mould that can grow on grains such as wheat, barley, and maize. These toxins are common in many parts of the world. They can have a negative effect on human health. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has set maximum levels for the presence of deoxynivalenol at 0.2 mg per kg of cereal-based foods for infants and young children, 1 mg per kg of flour, meal, semolina or flakes derived from wheat, maize or barley, and 2 mg per kg of wheat, maize and barley destined for further processing.

A number of standards for the safe use of food additives

Additives are substances added to food for a technological function, such as preservatives to keep food fresh for longer, antioxidants to stop food from becoming rancid and stabilisers to help mix ingredients. Additives also comprise colours, flavours and sweeteners. The safety of food additives is evaluated by an independent international expert committee (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, JECFA) before their use in food can be recommended. Based on JECFA's safety assessments, the Codex Alimentarius Commission recommended a large number of maximum use levels of specific food additives in various foods, such as fresh, frozen or smoked fish, coffee, and powdered infant formula, to protect consumer health.

Maximum limits for pesticide residues in food

Pesticides are chemicals used to kill insects, weeds and other pests to prevent them from damaging crops. Even when used according to best practices, low levels of residues of pesticides can end up in food. In order to ensure that such residues do not cause harm to people's health and based on risk assessments provided by a group of independent international experts (the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meeting on Pesticide Residues, JMPR), the Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted maximum residue limits for the amount of a pesticide in a specific food or group of foods, e.g. a limit of 3 mg per kg of the insecticide Phosmet for cranberries, or a limit of 0.1 mg per kg of Myclobutanil (used to prevent mould growth) for some fruits.

Residues of certain veterinary drugs should not be found in food of animal origin, due to adverse effects on human health

Dimetridazole, ipronidazole, metronidazole and ronidazole are used for the treatment and prevention of bacterial and protozoal diseases in animals, in particular turkeys and pigs. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) advised Codex that it is not possible to establish a safe level of the residue of these veterinary drugs in foods such as meat, kidneys or liver. Based on that, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted a recommendation that competent authorities in countries should prevent residues in food.

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