Meeting in Geneva earlier this month, Dr. Stuart Slorach, chairman of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) called the session 'extremely productive'. One particular aim of group, which is backed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation, was to come up with a comprehensive global regime on rules of origin, but this had to be postponed after a clash between European countries wanting tough rules and others preferring a more laissez-faire approach.
Driven by health concerns for consumers, the CAC began life in 1963, created by the United Nation bodies FAO and WHO to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme.
Last week the group agreed on a new code of practice on milk and milk products which supersedes an old code of practice on dried milk and will provide guidance to the 170 member countries to prevent unhygienic practices in the production, processing and handling of milk and milk products.
Traceability and product tracing is increasingly seen as an important element of national and international food regulatory systems, highlighted by a series of recent large-scale food safety crises. The adoption of the definition by the Commission at the 27th session marks the body's first step in this area.
Along the same lines, the FAO and WHO recently set up, with the support of the Spanish government, INFOSAN, which connects food safety authorities around the world in a rapid response and information exchange network that aims to prevent foodborne disease outbreaks from 'unduly spreading'.
The CAC has adopted new guidelines on 'Information Exchange in Health Emergencies' that spell out how that information exchange should take place.
The Codex group also adopted amended guidelines on health and nutrition claims, which supplement the existing provisions for nutrition claims, provide definitions of health claims and the conditions under which they can be allowed, and 'may assist governments in establishing national provisions for health claims' - currently under discussion, for example, at European level - as is already the case for nutrition claims.
But arguments at the Geneva meeting particularly focused on Parmesan cheese, which the EU insists must be made in a restricted area of Italy, but which for many other countries has become a generic term and so should not, in their opinion, be protected.
In fact, today the European Commission announced that it has opted to take Germany to the European Court of Justice in a bid to protect the 'Parmigiano Reggiano' protected designation of origin.
The Commission said that use of the name, registered at Union level since 1996, is by law exclusively reserved for producers within a delimited geographical area in Italy who make the cheese in line with a binding specification.
But cheeses not made in line with the 'Parmigiano Reggiano' specification continue to be sold on German territory under the name 'Parmesan', which in the eyes of the Brussels body is a translation, through French, of the celebrated Italian cheese.