30 June 2006


The Codex Alimentarius Commission -- the UN body charged with setting international standards related to food safety -- at its meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on 3-7 July, approved principles for tracing food through production and distribution processes, as well as guidelines for ensuring that imported food is safe for human health and in compliance with importing countries' food safety requirements. The Codex Commission also approved two proposals for the elaboration of new standards on animal and plant biotechnology.

The new standards were developed by the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS). The Committee is charged with developing benchmarks for food imports and exports aimed at protecting the health of consumers while ensuring fair trading practices and trade facilitation through international harmonisation.

Traceability text addresses many developing country concerns

Traceability is a tool that can help protect consumers against food-borne hazards and deceptive marketing practices and facilitate trade through precise product descriptions. It may be applied to all or specified stages of the food chain (from production to distribution) allowing competent authorities to identify at any specified stage of the food chain from where the food came and to where the food went.

The adopted principles are particularly designed to address developing countries' concerns. For example, they allow exporting developing countries to use a number of different tools within its food inspection and certification systems to meet the same objectives and produce the same outcomes (e.g. regarding food safety, provide the same level of protection) as those systems using a traceability tool. Hence, developing countries may build on food inspection and certification systems that already exist at the domestic level, rather than having to garner new technical capacities and financial resources to meet the standard requirements.

The standards also specified that the traceability tool "should not be more trade restrictive than necessary" and should be practical, technically feasible and economically viable. It notes that the provision of assistance to the exporting country (i.e. longer time frames for implementation, flexibility of design and technical assistance) should be considered by the importing country.

Adoption of Standard for Food Inspection based on risk

Codex Member countries agreed to adopt a standard to help guide the design and implementation of inspection programmes for imported food, based on the food safety risks to human health. Discussions, such as those on the definitions of 'risk-based' and 'science-based', are scheduled to take place in a working group chaired by UK and New Zealand in Brussels in September 2006. These are expected to further clarify the standard and ensure that it is in compliance with WTO requirements. Moreover, since several international bodies focus on risk analysis and individual countries have the sovereign right to choose between different protections against risk,, Codex could help individual countries navigate their options, as well as analyse what is achievable at the international level.

New Standards on animal and plant biotechnology to be elaborated

The Codex Commission directed the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology to elaborate guidelines to help individual countries create their own safety standards and regulatory framework regarding genetically modified (GM) animals. The guideline would take as a model the Codex guideline for food safety assessment of biotech foods derived from GM plant, taking into account the differences between plants and animals.

Moreover, countries agreed to further elaborate standards for plants used in factories that produce industrial or pharmaceuticals compounds. The Task Force will undertake this work to provide further guidance relating to bioavailability and physiological functions of the intended plant modification. It will focus on staple crops of interest to developing countries.

These standards would complement existing risk analysis standards for biotech foods developed by the Task Force and adopted by the Commission in 2003 (Bridges Trade BioRes, 11 July 2003).

Additional Resources

Report of the Commission meeting.

ICTSD reporting.

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