FAO/WHO commission to set guidelines for organic foods
International guidelines for organic foods are one of the main items on the agenda of the 23rd Session of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, to be held in Rome 28 June to 3 July. Codex Alimentarius means food code, and the Commission has come to be the seminal global reference point for consumers, producers and processors of food, national food control agencies and the international food trade.
Demand for organic food is on the rise worldwide, offering new opportunities and challenges to farmers, producers and traders. The European Community's organic food market - estimated at US$4.5 billion in 1997 - is the world's largest. In the United States organic food sales were estimated at US$4.2 billion in 1997 and, since 1990, the annual growth rate has been between 20 and 25 percent.
"International guidelines on organically produced foods are important for consumer protection and information and because they facilitate trade," said FAO food standards expert Selma Doyran. "They are also useful to governments wishing to develop regulations in this area, including developing countries and countries in Eastern Europe."
The Codex trade guidelines were developed taking into account regulations in force in several countries, as well as standards applied by producer organizations. They clearly define what constitutes organic food production and are designed to prevent claims that could mislead consumers about the quality of foods or the way they have been produced.
The Commission has several other substantive items on the agenda, including maximum residue limits for Bovine Somatotropine (BST) - the controversial cow hormone - the use of food additives, future work on the quality and safety of foods derived from biotechnology, and closer involvement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the work of Codex Alimentarius.
In response to the recent international crisis over dioxin-contaminated animal products, the Commission will discuss setting up a task force to accelerate the adoption of the Draft Code of Conduct on Good Animal Feeding.
Listen to or download an interview with Alan Randell, Senior Officer, FAO Food and Nutrition Division (ESN), by Liliane Kambirigi, on food safety and information regarding genetically modified crops and organic foods (3'13"):
28 June 1999