Consumer demand for organically produced food products is on the rise worldwide, providing new market opportunities for farmers and agribusiness in developing and developed countries.
"International guidelines on organically produced food products are important for consumer protection and information, because they facilitate trade. They are also useful to governments wishing to develop regulations in this area, including developing countries and countries in Eastern Europe," said FAO food standards expert Selma Doyran.
The trade guidelines on organic food were developed by the joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme taking into account current regulations in several countries, as well as the standards applied by producer organizations. They 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 was produced.
According to the proposed Codex definition, "organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity." In other words, organic agriculture is based on minimizing the use of external inputs, avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Maximum residue limits for Bovine Somatotropine (BST), the controversial cow hormone, is another topic on the Codex Alimentarius Commission agenda. There are divergent opinions about the impact of BST on animal health and milk quality.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission, which has 165 member countries, will also discuss the possibility of setting up a task force to accelerate the adoption of a draft Code of conduct on good animal feeding. It is expected that participants will stress the need for such a Code to help defuse the recent international crisis over dioxin contaminated animal products.
On several occasions, the FAO/WHO Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants has discussed the establishment of a maximum limit for dioxins in food. At its last session in March 1999, the Committee decided that more information was needed from Codex member countries before it could recommend a limit for low levels of dioxin contamination in foods of animal origin.
Other topics on the agenda of the Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting include a recommendation to increase involvement of NGOs in the Commission's work.
The Commission will also discuss support for the Lactoperoxidase System (LPS) as the preferred method for milk preservation under conditions where refrigeration is not possible. LPS gives farmers a full five hours to transport their milk to refrigeration facilities, a period of time that allows poor farmers in isolated areas of the developing world a chance to market their milk far from home. According to a World Bank estimate, in West Africa alone, 5 million litres of milk are thrown away every year, because there is no way to preserve milk while it is being transported to cooling centres or dairies.