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Codex meeting makes progress; adds session to finish some of its work

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The Codex Alimentarius Commission agreed on a range of standards but had to delay adoption of the final report after running out of time during its latest meeting.

The Commission met online in November across several days and involved more than 800 participants.

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Members of the international food standards-setting body approved a number of standards, guidelines and codes of practice. They also elected Steve Wearne, director of global affairs at the Food Standards Agency, as the new chairperson of the Commission. Allan Azegele from Kenya, Raj Rajasekar of New Zealand and Diego Varela from Chile were named as vice chairpersons.

Adopted guidelines included monitoring and surveillance of foodborne antimicrobial resistance and on front-of-pack nutrition labeling to help consumers understand the nutritional value of food.

Added event in December
Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Codex standards play a vital role in improving the safety and quality of food, promoting consumers’ health and nutrition, and protecting fair trade practices.

“Codex is one essential part of our global efforts to improve the safety of quality of food. To address the issue of food safety, WHO (the World Health Organization) is developing an updated WHO global strategy for food safety, which will outline priorities and include clear targets. The update of the strategy is being done in close coordination with FAO, and in consultation with member states, OIE, and other stakeholders. In May 2022, the strategy will be taken up by the 75th World Health Assembly,” he said.

Standards were adopted for dried oregano, dried or dehydrated ginger, cloves, and dried basil. Plans for new work included developing texts for small cardamom, turmeric and spices in the form of dried fruits and berries. Efforts are ongoing on a standard for saffron and dried chili peppers and paprika.

Adoption of the report was planned in November but is now expected to happen at a session on Dec. 14 that will also include discussion of the status of FAO and WHO’s food safety strategies that run beginning in 2022.

Food contaminants
A standard on the maximum levels of cadmium in chocolate containing or declaring below 30 percent cocoa solids on a dry matter basis and above 30 percent and below 50 percent cocoa solids was adopted. The European Union previously said it wanted stricter levels than those proposed while the topic has also been raised at World Trade Organization meetings by countries such as Peru.

Efforts on a code of practice for the prevention and reduction of cadmium contamination in cocoa beans will carry on into 2023.

New plans include maximum levels for methylmercury in orange roughy and pink cusk eel and developing a code of practice for the prevention and reduction of mycotoxin contamination in cassava and cassava-based products.

Work is ongoing to draft maximum levels for lead in certain food categories and for total aflatoxins in ready-to-eat peanuts with associated sampling plans.

QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said Codex Alimentarius’ standards lay a strong foundation to ensure food is safe.

“The work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission offers the technical support to food safety and fair trade. Recognizing the importance of food safety, the FAO Ministerial Conference in June this year endorsed increased funding levels for FAO’s food safety scientific advice program for the next biennium,” he said.

Import and export issues
Guidance on paperless use of electronic certificates was adopted. It is intended to assist authorities with electronic certification exchanges to show that food part of international trade has met the importing country’s requirements for food safety.

Supporters say it will decrease the time and cost of trade and can be connected to modern, risk-based and electronic methods to help controls and inspection of food. However, others were wary about aspects related to the technology used.

Guidelines for the assessment and use of voluntary Third Party Assurance programs were backed. They focus on the structure, governance and components of such programs.

Work is ongoing on draft guidelines on recognition and maintenance of equivalence of national food control systems with guidance on the prevention and control of food fraud also planned.

Ahead of Codex marking its 60th year in 2023, there are plans for a publication reflecting on the anniversary and a project to enhance the visibility of Codex standards.

Members are also considering not holding a Commission meeting in 2022 with the hope of having an in-person meeting in July 2023.

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