July 2003, Rome -- The Codex Alimentarius Commission
has adopted a landmark agreement on how to assess the risks to
consumers from foods derived from biotechnology, including
genetically modified foods, FAO and the World Health
Organization (WHO) said today.
the Commission adopted more than 50 new food safety and quality
standards, some of which are revisions of old standards.
The Commission adopted ground-breaking
guidelines for assessing the food safety risks posed by foods
derived from biotechnology.
safety and genetically modified food
These guidelines lay out broad general principles
intended to make the analysis and management of risks related to
foods derived from biotechnology uniform across Codex's 169
member countries. The guidelines concern food safety and not
Provisions of the
guidelines include pre-market safety evaluations and product
tracing for recall purposes and post-market monitoring. The
guidelines cover the scientific assessment of DNA-modified
plants, such as maize, soya or potatoes, and foods and beverages
derived from DNA-modified micro-organisms, including cheese,
yoghurt and beer.
They include provisions
for assessing the product's allergenicity, determining if
the product may provoke unexpected allergies in consumers.
"These guidelines are a very
important step towards understanding the risks associated with
foods derived from biotechnology," said Alan Randell,
Secretary of the Codex Commission.
"Now, any country, regulatory body or other
organization or individual will be able to compare the risk
assessments of a given food derived from biotechnology with the
assessments done by other countries. As long as the science is
sound, each country wishing to use or introduce a given food
derived from biotechnology will not have to redo the analysis,
but can move directly to deciding how to manage the marketing of
that food. Consumers can be assured that foods assessed by these
methods are fit to eat," he said.
The Commission also adopted a new standard for
irradiated foods that accepts higher levels of radiation on food
products. Food is irradiated to make it safe for longer periods
of time. The process, which uses gamma ray irradiation, kills
bacteria, increasing the food products' shelf life.
The Commission determined that allowing
higher levels of irradiation would eliminate bacterial spores
and the radiation resistant pathogenic bacteria Clostridium
botulinum. The process also reduces the need to use more toxic
chemical methods of combating bacteria, some of which can be
harmful to the environment.
is a really important breakthrough," Randell said.
"For the consumer it means a potential for higher
levels of food safety because of the protection offered by food
irradiation. For example, it can be applied to spices which can
carry bacteria resistant to other treatments. Irradiated foods
are proven safe and do not contain any radioactive
Responding to consumer
concerns about meat, the Commission adopted standards that will
improve the safety of meat by establishing principles of meat
hygiene. A Code of Practice on good animal feeding calls for
stricter and more systematic controls over sources of
Codex adopted new
quality standards for many food items. For example, consumers
will soon note the amount of cocoa in chocolate and chocolate
products will determine when the term
"chocolate" can be used. The new standard sets
a minimum 35 per cent of cocoa solids in products marketed as
"chocolate" and a minimum 20 per cent in
"chocolate type" products, such as
"chocolate flakes". The new standard requires
the minimum cocoa content to be clearly marked on the packaging
of all chocolate flavoured products.
"The Commission made some very important
decisions for food safety. The most important of these was to
extend food safety systems to small and medium-sized
enterprises, especially in developing countries. This will help
these small businesses produce safe food for consumers and
improve their prospects for trade," said Alan Randell.
The Commission examined its own structures
and procedures to speed up its work and make it more open to
developing countries and international non-governmental
organizations. Additionally WHO and FAO requested Codex to
better prioritize its requests for scientific advice, which is
provided by FAO/WHO expert bodies. FAO and WHO will strengthen
their efforts in providing the science as the basis for Codex
standards in a timely manner.
FAO and WHO
further called on developed countries to contribute to the Codex
Trust Fund to help increase participation by developing
countries in the standard-setting process.
The commission elected Stuart Slorach of Sweden as its
The Codex Alimentarius
Commission is the highest international body on food standards.
The Commission is a subsidiary body of FAO and WHO. Codex
Alimentarius means "food code" and is the
compilation of all the Standards, Codes of Practice, Guidelines
and Recommendations of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Codex has 169 member countries. The 26th
session was attended by delegates from 127 of the member
countries, the most ever to attend a Codex session.
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105
WHO Media Advisor
(+41) 22 791 4458