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Bridging differences on sweeteners


A 12-year long impasse started to gradually unravel during the 51st session of the Codex Committee on Food Additives (CCFA51) in March 2019, when Codex Members found a new compromise on how to mutually respect their regulatory differences while not preventing international harmonization.

Among the standards that CCFA51 will send for adoption by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in July 2019 are revised provisions for the General Standard for Food Additives (GSFA) that concern the use of sweeteners in some food categories. The provisions would recognize that in some countries sweeteners can only be used in foods with significant (caloric) energy reduction, foods with no added sugars or as a sweetener to improve flavour.

For more than a decade, “Note 161”, as it became known, allowed for national exemptions to harmonizing with a Codex standard on sweeteners. With the new approach, the scientific base and the function of Codex as an international standard-setting organization will be strengthened to some extent. CCFA will continue considering the replacement of Note 161 attached to sweeteners based on their functional/technological use in a given food category.

“This was a smart and well prepared compromise recognizing that our world is diverse and there is need for allowing differences in regulations while respecting the scientific basis of our standards. This could be a model approach for other committees”, said Tom Heilandt, Codex Secretary. “Overall, this was a remarkable meeting as CCFA made progress on a number of technical issues in addition to this break-through. A lot of good work came to completion!”

CCFA Chair Fan Yongxiang

Patrick Sekitoleko and LingPing Zhang, Codex Secretariat; Fan Yongxiang, Chairperson CCFA; Ding Hao, CCFA Secretariat

The CCFA Chairperson observed, “I am convinced that it was the dedicated work and wide collaboration of all Codex Members and Observers, the meticulous preparation in the physical and electronic working groups, the efforts of the Codex and JECFA Secretariats, as well as the great hospitality shown by the City of Jinan that have laid the foundation for achieving these successes. These combined efforts culminated in a very successful meeting outcome.”

“In practicing the rules of propriety, it is harmony that is prized”


Every morning the CCFA Secretariat set a collaborative tone for the meeting by sharing a carefully curated message of Confucian wisdom on how the upholding of moral values can help overcome difficulties in life. Could the inspiration of these messages have been augmented by the fact that the meeting took place in the birth province of Confucius himself?


Read more in the Discussion paper on the development of wording for an alternative to note 161 relating to the use of sweeteners

Read the CCFA51 meeting report.