UN commission set to adopt safer food standards against disease-causing contaminants

29 June 2006

A United Nations commission that is the highest international body on food standards is set next week to adopt a number of important proposals to improve protection of consumers from disease-causing organisms and substances, such as lead and cancer-causing toxins, by reducing their contamination of foods.

Some 500 delegates from about 100 countries and numerous nongovernmental organizations are expected to attend the 3-7 July meeting in Geneva of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a joint venture of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

If adopted, the proposals would set standards that would also facilitate international food trade by eliminating unjustified technical barriers.

Under consideration are issues that are important to developing and developed countries alike, such as:

  • Maximum limit in fish of lead, which can cause a wide range of disorders, including anemia and hepatic and neurological disorders.
  • Maximum limits in rice, marine bivalve molluscs and cephalopods of cadmium, which can cause kidney damage.
  • Measures to prevent contamination of Brazil nuts with cancer-causing aflatoxins.
  • Measures to prevent and reduce food and feed contamination with highly toxic and carcinogenic Dioxin and Dioxin-like PCB.

Some topics on the agenda are likely to cause intense debate such as the establishment of a Task Force on antibiotic resistance in bacteria, a potential threat to human health. The incorrect use of antibiotics in animals can lead to drug resistance in infections in humans who eat their meat. The Task Force would develop a risk assessment policy and strategies to reduce food safety risks associated with antibiotics use.

Codex Alimentarius standards form the basis of food legislation in many countries and are recognized as international benchmarks by one of the multilateral agreements of the UN World Trade Organization (WTO).

 

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