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How a Codex guideline will ensure UNICEF can deliver safe food

The Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) is working on a text, developed following a request from UNICEF, which will provide guidance on technical and nutritional aspects of the production of Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods for children from the age of 6 to 59 months with severe acute malnutrition. Children affected by this type of malnutrition, known as SAM, need safe, palatable foods with a high energy content and adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. They also need effective and timely treatment and RUTF can be part of that care.

How is RUTF used to combat SAM

SAM hits the most vulnerable and RUTF is designed as an option so that breast milk after 6 months is not replaced with poor quality staples. RUTF supports children suffering from SAM by providing 1000 calories daily in two sachets – for 6-8 weeks. According to UNICEF, the average cost of such an intervention is USD 40 for 150 sachets. UNICEF-RUTF-Aweil in South Sudan


Akthem Fourati, Chief of the Medicines and Nutrition Center at UNICEF’s Supply Division said, “We are inspired by what has happened with our work on RUTF. When we began over 10 years ago there were many obstacles to overcome, from quality assurance and safety to pricing and cashflow.” The fortieth Session of CCNFSDU held in Berlin, Germany, from 26 to 30 November 2018 completed much of the work on the draft text. It agreed to continue developing the food additives and proteins sections of the guideline through a working group, led by South Africa together with Senegal and Uganda, and consider them at its next session along with other outstanding issues.

Governments own the solution.

Alison Fleet, a Technical Specialist in the Nutrition Unit at UNICEF’s Supply Division said, “The future of this kind of work lies with governments and they own the solution”. UNICEF has worked with governments so they can be part of the journey to tackle SAM and ultimately be part of the solution in so many ways; from programme to supply chain as well as in Codex. “We have seen many Codex members participating in this work and this is extremely encouraging.  While UNICEF requested that the RUTF guideline be developed, the real significance is to have it available for countries. We look forward to finding consensus on the remaining issues, such as the additives and labelling sections, and seeing the guideline going forward for adoption”, she said. Verna Carolissen, Codex Food Standards Officer said, “this is an excellent example of UN agencies collaborating on a critical issue. The technical expertise of members and observers at CCNFSDU is working to ensure products like RUTF, often used in emergency or life-threatening situations by UNICEF are safe for those most in need”. With the work currently progressing well, the guideline should proceed towards adoption through CCNFSDU and be proposed at the next Commission to be held in Rome in July 2020. Read more Proposed draft Codex text in full. Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) market update from UNICEF.  Main photo: Markus Lipp (FAO), Sarah Cahill (Codex) meet with Alison Fleet and Akthem Fourati (UNICEF) at FAO HQ Rome, Italy.