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Codex Alimentarius Commission:17-22 July 2017

Live updates of decisions being taken at the ongoing 40th Session in Geneva, Switzerland

The United Nations food standards body Codex Alimentarius Commission is meeting in Geneva from 17 to 22 July 2017 to adopt food safety and quality standards. Charged with protecting consumer health and ensuring fair practices in the food trade, the Codex Alimentarius is a joint initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).Decisions taken at the 40th session of the Commission will be published below as they are made. For more information on the upcoming Codex session, visit the links listed at right. 

Future work on maximum levels of mercury in fish

AGREED - 18 July 2017

Mercury, a naturally occurring element, can harm human health in various ways. It accumulates in fish in the form of methylmercury.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has decided to start new work to establish maximum levels of methylmercury for certain fish: tuna, alfonsino, kingfish/amberjack, marlin, shark, dogfish and swordfish.

Fish that live for a long time, and are higher in the food chain, have higher levels of methylmercury in their bodies. Mercury can have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems of humans, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.

The new work of the Commission will take into account the negative health effects of methylmercury, as well as the health benefits of nutrients in fish.

Related links:

New work on antimicrobial resistance

AGREED - 18 July 2017

Following global action to address antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the Codex Alimentarius Commission has agreed to start new work to revise the 2005 Code of practice to minimise and contain antimicrobial resistance and develop Guidance on Integrated Surveillance of Antimicrobial Resistance along the food chain.

AMR is a serious threat to human health. Bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites are all microbes that cause diseases in humans and animals. All types of microbes can develop resistance to medicines naturally over time. But overuse and misuse of medicines, like antibiotics, in people and animals is speeding up the process. Common infections are now becoming resistant to available treatments.

In 2015, resolutions on tackling antimicrobial resistance were adopted by governments at WHO's World Health Assembly and the FAO Conference, as well as the World Organisation for Animal Health's (OIE) World Assembly of Delegates.

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Guidelines for risk analysis of chemicals inadvertently present in food at low levels

AGREED - 18 July 2017

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has approved new work to address substances like cleaning agents used in the various stages of food production and processing and may inadvertently end up in our food.

This risk has been long recognized by a number of national regulatory authorities, who have developed sound, pragmatic approaches to respond when such chemicals are detected in food. However, there is no internationally harmonized approach in this area.

The Commission, under the auspices of the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods, will develop risk-analysis guidelines, drawing on existing science and best practices from around the world.

These guidelines will provide an internationally harmonized approach to help regulators address possible public-health and trade issues when responding to the inadvertent presence of low levels of chemicals for which no international recommendations or national legislation exist.

Related links:

Relevant Codex document - Para 153, Appendix XI (download)

Code of Practice for the reduction of 3-MCPD esters and glycidyl esters in refined oils and products made with refined oils, especially infant formula

AGREED - 18 July 2017

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has approved new work aimed at reducing certain contaminants in refined oils, which are used also in infant formula, chemicals known as 3-MCPD esters and glycidyl esters, which JECFA has concluded pose certain risks to consumer health.  

After detailed consideration by the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods, the Commission decided a new code of practice would be developed, laying out explicit guidance for producers and users to reduce the presence of 3-MCPD and glycidyl esters in refined oils, such as rapeseed, soya bean, sunflower, safflower, walnut and especially palm oils.

The participatory, consensus-based process to develop the future code of practice would aim to ensure the production of a safe product to protect consumer health and ensure trade flow of refined oils by producing countries.

Related links:

JECFA assessment: Report of the 83rd JECFA meeting http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/254893/1/9789241210027-eng.pdf?ua=1

Maximum residue limits for veterinary drugs in animal products: ivermectin, lasalocid sodium and teflubenzuron 

AGREED - 17 July 2017

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted maximum residue limits for a range of drugs sometimes used in food-producing animals. The decision was based on an evaluation by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).Maximum residue limits were set for medicines Ivermectin (used to kill parasites) in tissues from cattle, and Lasalocid sodium (used for a similar purpose) in tissues from birds (chicken, turkey, quail and pheasant). Also, maximum residue limits were set for the insecticide Teflubenzuron when used in salmon.

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Code of hygienic practice for fresh fruits and vegetables

AGREED - 17 July 2017

Production, handling and preparation of all foods involves various risks. These can be reduced by following good agricultural and hygienic practices to help control microbial, chemical and physical hazards. This, in turn, minimizes the likelihood of foodborne diseases affecting consumers or negatively impacting public health. Such risks apply equally to fresh fruits and vegetables. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted revisions updating its risk-based Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (CAC/RCP 53-2003) to provide detailed guidance to stakeholders along fresh fruit and vegetable value chains - from producers through to final consumers. The aim is to minimize microbial hazards, avoid risks to health, and maximize the safety of these nutritious food products, which are also of major economic importance for many countries in global trade.

Related links:

Code of Hygienic Practice for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (CAC/RCP 53-2003)

Guidelines on nutrition labelling 

AGREED - 17 July 2017

The Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted the Nutrient Reference Values (NRV) for vitamins D and E.Nutrition labelling is an important way of informing consumers on the nutrient content of foods, which can in turn help them make informed choices to support healthy diets. A five-year long process was undertaken to update the NRVs for use on food labels around the world, with the aim to ensure global consistency in how nutrients are declared on labels.

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Standards for cumin, thyme and black, white and green pepper

AGREED - 17 July 2017

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted three commodity standards on spices and culinary herbs - for Cumin, Thyme and Black, White and Green (BWG) Pepper. Cumin, dried thyme and pepper are among the world's most widely used seasonings: the popularity of their signature flavours and aroma is so significant that they represent important commodities for many national economies and in the international food trade. The international standards set by the Commission, and developed by the Codex Committee on Spices and Culinary Herbs, define the quality characteristics needed to regulate technical aspects, such as tolerances for defects, permitted levels of food additives and labelling. This not only protects the health of consumers, but also sets a level playing field for producers and traders in the international markets.

Note: The standards are adopted subject to the endorsement of the labelling provisions by the Codex Committee on Food

Related links

  • Relevant Codex document paras 29, 38, 42 (download)

Standard for fish oils

AGREED - 17 July 2017

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted the Standard for Fish Oils, which reflects the latest available scientific information on use of such oils. Fish oils are highly nutritious products extracted from a variety of species of fish caught in the wild or raised through aquaculture. In many cultures, fish oils are added to other foods, used in the preparation of different cuisines, and consumed on their own for their nutritional properties and distinctive quality characteristics. The Standard for Fish Oils is the result of a participatory standard-development process benefitting from the work of independent experts and national authorities collaborating under the Codex framework. Like all Codex texts, the new Standard for Fish Oils is freely available for use by all stakeholders in the global fish oil value chain, from producers through to consumers.

Note: The standards are adopted subject to the endorsement of the labelling provisions by the Codex Committee on Food 

Related links:

Standards for Fish Oils (download draft in Appendix III)

Food additives 

AGREED - 17 July 2017 

The Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted a set of measures to safeguard the health of consumers from additives that are added to food to perform specific technological functions. They include preservatives used to keep food fresh for longer, antioxidants for stopping food from becoming rancid, stabilizers to help mix ingredients, and colours, flavours and sweeteners. The safety of such food additives is evaluated by the independent and international Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which provides safety assessments to the Codex Committee on Food Additives (CCFA).Actions agreed by the Commission included changes to the way food additives are addressed in Codex commodity standards, and the setting of maximum use levels for specific additives in various foods.

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Maximum level of lead in processed fruits and vegetables 

AGREED - 17 July 2017

To protect against high exposures of lead, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has set new limits for lead contamination found in food. Lead is a chemical existing in the environment, including in the air and water, and can be absorbed by plants from soil. If humans are exposed to too much lead it is detrimental to their health. Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead. In an efforts to reduce exposure, the Commission set limits of no more than 0.1 mg of lead per kg of pulses (such as lentils and dried beans), 0.4mg/kg for jams, jellies and marmalades, and 0.05 mg/kg for preserved tomatoes, amongst other maximum levels for processed fruits and vegetables.

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Code of Practice for the prevention and reduction of arsenic contamination in rice 

AGREED - 17 July 2017

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted a code of practice for the prevention and reduction of arsenic contamination in rice. Arsenic is among a wide range of substances, whether occurring naturally in the environment or produced by human activity, that can accumulate in plants as they grow and, eventually, end up in our food. Such contaminants may be harmful to human health. Arsenic can become concentrated in rice, the major staple food for a large portion of the world's population. Health risks associated with high arsenic exposure, such as cancer and certain skin diseases are significant on a global scale. Arsenic exposure has also been associated with developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes. Contamination can also impact the availability of rice and, thereby, food security. Serving as a guide for managing the risks of arsenic contamination in rice, the code of practice lays out agricultural and source-directed measures that have proved effective and implementable worldwide to help rice producers avoid and reduce introduction or build-up of arsenic in their crops. Developed through a broad participatory process, involving countries from all income groupings, the code of practice is now available to rice farmers and other stakeholders to help produce and trade safe rice. It shows how to take appropriate measures regarding water, soil, agricultural and industrial contamination, thus protecting the health of consumers everywhere. Further development of the code is envisaged as more practices become available further down the food chain (e.g. processing and cooking measures).

Related links:

  • Code of Practice - see appendix I (download)
  • WHO fact sheet on arsenic (download)

Maximum limits for pesticide residues in food 

AGREED - 17 July 2017

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has adopted maximum residue limits for more than 25 different pesticides in various foods, including vegetables (avocados, cucumbers), fruits (grapes, pears), and animal products (milk, eggs, poultry).Pesticides are chemicals used to kill insects, weeds and other pests to prevent them from damaging crops. Even when used in accordance with best practices, low levels of residues of pesticides can end up in food. The maximum limits aim to ensure pesticide residues do not harm people's health, and are based on risk assessments from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR),Existing Codex standards for diazinon, glyphosate and malathion remain unchanged, taking into account the JMPR's recent re-evaluation of these pesticides.

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