Prepared by the joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme and the Commission's Committee on Food Labelling, the "Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organic Food" clearly define the nature of organic food production and prevent claims that could mislead consumers about the quality of the product or the way it is produced. The final objective is to provide the consumer with a choice while giving assurances that organic agriculture standards have been met.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted 35 new food standards, 4 codes of good hygienic practice and 220 maximum residue limits in food. However it decided to postpone setting maximum residue limits for Bovine Somatotropine (BST) until a consensus is reached. All the decisions taken at this meeting were on the basis of a full consensus of member countries.
The Commission approved the establishment of an intergovernmental task force to speed up the elaboration of standards for foods derived from biotechnology. A proposal by Japan underlines that "safety assessment of foods derived from biotechnology is becoming more important as the volume and trade of these foods, including genetically modified organisms, increases every year." It is hoped that these standards will be elaborated and adopted by the year 2003.
Two other intergovernmental task forces were set up by the Commission to elaborate standards respectively for animal feeding and fruit juices. The importance of good animal feeding was illustrated by the recent international crisis provoked by dioxin contaminated food in Belgium while revised standards for fruit juices are needed to protect the consumer and prevent fraudulent practice.
Stressing the importance of the meeting, Mr. John Lupien, Director of FAO's food and nutrition Division, said the Codex system is the key to protect the health of consumers, ensure fair trade practices and harmonize international food standards.
"Much more needs to be done to improve food quality in a world where international food trade, currently valued at more than US dollars 500 billion annually, is growing rapidly," Mr. Lupien added.
The Commission also approved a proposal to establish a Codex Coordinating Committee for the Near East which will define the problems and needs of the region concerning food standards and food control. The committee will promote exchange of information, recommend standards for products of interest to the region and develop regional standards.
In addition, the Codex Alimentarius Commission amended the general standards for the labelling of prepackaged foods to include new requirements covering hypersensitivity (food allergy and intolerance) and established a limit of 15ug/kg for aflatoxin in peanuts requiring further processing.
Regarding its procedural manual, the Commission decided that every effort should be made to ensure that food standards be reached by consensus.
"It was one of the most productive Commission sessions in many years and one which made changes to ensure the Commission's viability for the future," said Mr. Alan Randell, senior officer of the joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme.