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Parmesan puzzle heads Codex labelling debate

04-Jul-2005

While debates on ingredient labelling and on Parmesan cheese are among the main issues at this week's meeting of the Codex Alimentarius, other items on the agenda include codes of practice for handling quick frozen foods, cadmium levels in rice and on organics, writes Ahmed ElAmin.

The Codex Alimentarius is the joint international food safety standard setting body of the United Nations' Food andAgriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO). Its membership includes 171 countries and the European Union.

The European Union says its members support the move to introduce a general standard for specifying all ingredients in prepackaged foods through labels, they disagree that nutrition labelling andnutrition or health claims should also be included.

On the issue of who may label their cheese as "Parmesan", the EU said it would oppose the standard setting body and wants the organisation to drop the debate. The EU says the Codex is thewrong forum to debate on the right of "geographical indications" and "intellectual property" over such products. Instead the EU is pursuing the issue at the World TradeOrganisation (WTO) and at the World Intellectual Property Rights Organisation in defense of Italian producers.

Parmesan is a French inspired translation of "Parmigiano-Reggiano", which is a protected designation of origin in the territory of the EU and may only be used by Italian producers, who are upin arms about cheese manufactured in North and South America and sold as under the name. The EU argues the use outside of Italy infringes the 'geographical indication' intellectual property mark.

"A 'Parmesan precedent' would be very unfortunate," the EU states in its analysis of the various issues it faces at this round of Codex negotiations. "It could be used infuture to override the interests of other members on issues of particular concern. Breaking the consensus rule on this issue would diminish the standing and authority of Codex in the internationalcommunity."

While the EU will be in disagreement with the US over the parmesan issue, it will be in agreement over supporting a new draft safety code on the processing and handling of quick frozen foods. Thecode will specify what ingredients, equipment and safety procedures may be used in preparing quick frozen foods. The EU will be proposing some changes to the wording and requirements of the draft,which may take years before a final wording is agreed upon.

The EU says it will not take a position at this time the Codex's proposal to set a maximum level for total aflatoxins in unprocessed almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios. However the EU notesacceptance of the level will depend on the outcome of ongoing discussions among Codex members.

The EU will also maintain its position that the Codex's proposal on a maximum level for cadmium in rice is too high. The EU believes that the proposed level of 0.4 mg/kg could result in certaingroups of the population exceeding safe thresholds of dietary intake for cadmium and that a lower level is achievable. Cadmium is a naturally occurring metallic element which can cause adverse healtheffects on the lungs and kidneys. The draft standards will also set maximum levels for cadmium in wheat grain, potatoes and vegetables.

The EU supports Codex proposals for a draft code of practice on preventing antimicrobial resistance in bacterial contaminants found in food products.

Other items on the agenda include:

  • a draft code of practice for the prevention and reduction of tin contamination in canned foods;
  • draft amendments to the international numbering system for food additives;
  • draft specifications for the identity and purity of food additives;
  • a draft code of practice for fish and fishery products;
  • a draft amendment to the standard for salted fish and died salted fish relating to cod and haddock;
  • a draft code of practice for handling shrimps, prawns and cephalopods;
  • a draft amendment to the standard for sesame seed oil;
  • a recommended international code of practice for the bulk storage and transport of edible fats and oils
  • a draft code of hygienic practice for meat
  • draft guidelines for vitamin and mineral food supplements;
  • a draft setting maximum residue levels for pesticides;
  • a draft setting maximum residue limits for veterinary drugs in farm animals;
  • a draft Codex general standard for fruit juices and nectars;
  • a draft standards minimum brix level for reconstituted juice and reconstituted purée. The standard would also set the minimum juice and purée content for fruit nectars;

The Codex Commission also wants approval from member states for continuing work on setting guidelines for the production,processing, labelling and marketing of organic foods. It will also propose principles on product tracing under a food import and export certification system.

Codex members are meeting at the FAO's headquarters in Rome from 4 July to 9 July.

When contacted, Thiery Habotte, press spokesman for the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA), said the organisation didnot have any comments to make on the proposals being made at Codex. He rejected a request from FoodProductionDaily.com to talk with the organisation's president.

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