FAQs - Questions about specific Codex work

What work has Codex undertaken on vitamin and mineral supplements?

What work has Codex undertaken on vitamin and mineral supplements?

In the early 1990s, the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) began discussions on guidelines for vitamin and mineral supplements. This Committee is responsible for studying nutritional issues referred by the Codex Alimentarius Commission; drafting provisions, as appropriate, on the nutritional aspects of all foods; and developing standards, guidelines, or related texts for foods for special dietary uses. The Guidelines were adopted in 2005.

The Guidelines apply only to supplements that contain vitamins and/or minerals, where these products are regulated as foods. The Guidelines address the composition of vitamin and mineral supplements, including the safety, purity, and bioavailability of the sources of vitamins and minerals.

The Guidelines do not specify upper limits for vitamins and minerals in supplements. Instead, they provide criteria for establishing maximum amounts of vitamins and minerals per daily portion of supplement consumed, as recommended by the manufacturer. The criteria specify that maximum amounts should be established by scientific risk assessment based on generally accepted scientific data and taking into consideration, as appropriate, the varying degrees of sensitivity of different consumer groups. The Guidelines also address the packaging and labelling of vitamin and mineral supplements. We encourage you to read the complete text of the Guidelines at:
http://www.codexalimentarius.net/download/standards/10206/cxg_055e.pdf .

Shouldn't the residue limits of all dangerous substances and contaminants in foods be zero? Why does Codex allow more than zero?

Shouldn't the residue limits of all dangerous substances and contaminants in foods be zero? Why does Codex allow more than zero?

In an ideal world food should be free of all dangerous substances. Unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world and we still have to eat. Even products that have been produced without use of pesticides can contain residues of banned substances due to their previous use in the environment. Even organically grown products may contain hazardous (naturally occurring) contaminants such as aflatoxins. If we wanted to ban all foods that have residues of one or the other substance our tables could be rather empty.

Codex follows an approach called "risk analysis". First, the risk of an identified hazard to humans is assessed by independent scientific expert bodies ("risk assessment"). A hazard may be any physical, chemical or microbiological agent. Then, on the basis of the outcome of risk assessment, the relevant Codex committee discusses what action should be taken to keep the risk below an acceptable level ("risk management"). Whereas risk assessment looks, for example, at the toxicity of and probable exposure to pesticides or contaminants, risk management looks at the big picture which also includes the diet of different population, the feasibility and costs of different risk management options, while keeping in mid the need to make safe food available to all at affordable prices.

Governments in each country are responsible for the risk management in many different areas and may decide on differently: well known non-food-related risk management examples that affect all of us are e.g. the amount of alcohol allowed in the blood when driving or the speed limit on motorways.

Why does Codex list some substances that are banned by the Stockholm Convention?

Why does Codex list some substances that are banned by the Stockholm Convention?

The Stockholm Convention deals with Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). POPs are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. These substances also bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue and biomagnify in food chains, and thus can have a significant impact on human health and the environment. Many of the first generation organochlorine insecticides such as DDT had these characteristics.

The Stockholm Convention entered into force on 17 May 2004 with ratification by an initial 128 parties and 151 signatories. Parties to the convention committed themselves to outlaw nine chemicals, to limit the use of DDT to malaria control and to curtail inadvertent production of dioxins and furans.
Banning the use of POPs does not automatically and immediately remove their residues from the environment, agricultural commodity, animal feed or food (because they are persistent and still present due to previous use). It will take some time until they will degrade to undetectable levels in the environment.
As many POPs were used as pesticides, the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues has dealt with them. There are two kinds of maximum residue limits that the committee may set:

  • maximum residue limits (MRLs) are established for pesticides which are currently intentionally used to protect agricultural crops; and
  • extraneous maximum residue limits (EMRLs) are established for compounds that are no longer used as pesticides but residues are arising from environmental sources as a result of previous use.

Codex has established safe EMRLs for some POPs and future sessions of the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues will consider this matter further and eventually decide if these EMRLS are still needed.

Is Codex promoting genetically-modified food (GM foods) and irradiated food? What about organic or halal foods?

Is Codex promoting genetically-modified food (GM foods) and irradiated food? What about organic or halal foods?

Codex is strongly committed to promote safe foods. Amongst safe foods, Codex does not give any preference to certain kinds of foods over others. Such choice belongs to consumers.

Codex has adopted principles and guidelines to assess food safety of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants, animals and microorganisms. If a government chooses to build a regulatory mechanism to address the food safety of so-called GM foods, then they can use Codex text as a basis for it. This being said, each government is free to adopt its own policy as to the use of GM organisms in the agriculture and other sectors.

At the moment, there are no internationally-agreed recommendations on the food labelling of GM foods. Governments are therefore applying their own regulations.

Codex has developed standards and a code of practice to effectively apply the irradiation technology to improve food safety, together with guidance on the labelling of irradiated foods. However, it is left to governments to determine their own approach to the use of food irradiation.

Codex has adopted international recommendations on the labelling of "organic foods" and "Halal foods", in order to protect consumers from deceptive trade practices. These Codex texts are widely used by countries.

What does Codex do to protect the health of infants and young children?

What does Codex do to protect the health of infants and young children?

One example is the Code of Hygienic Practice for Powdered Formulae for Infants and Young Children. This code helps to prevent contamination of formula with bacteria and protect children who for any reason cannot be breastfed from potentially serious infections. The code sets maximum limits for bacteria in powdered formula and provides guidance on how to produce, distribute and prepare it safely.

Updated on: 01-02-2016
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