Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses
Report of 30th Session, Cape Town, South Africa, 3-7 November 2008
J. R. Lupien
The 30th Session of the Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) met in Cape Town, South Africa from 3-7 November 2008. The chairman of the meeting was Dr Rolf Grossklaus of Germany. Germany is the host country of the CCNFSDU, and had agreed with the Government of South Africa to hold this 30th session in Cape Town.
The CCNFSDU session was preceded by a few working groups that had worked through electronic systems since the last meeting to obtain comment and suggestions for Codex texts that the previous session had considered, but not adopted. There was also an International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) sponsored workshop on the science background for fiber, with a view to providing current scientific information as background for CCNFSDU discussions on the definition of fiber.
The 30th CCNFSDU session was opened by South African Minister of Health Barbara Hogan, and by Bernhard Kuhnle, Director-General for Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs of the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. Both speakers emphasised the importance of using good and current science-based data and information in preparing Codex standards and related texts.
The 30th Session agenda contained eight substantive agenda items. The first of these was on matters referred to CCNFSDU by the Codex Alimentarius Commission of other Codex subsidiary bodies, and on matters of interest from FAO and WHO. An important part of the discussions in this agenda item was consideration of a proposal from FAO and WHO that these bodies should be the provider of scientific advice to CCNFSDU. The Codex Member Countries attending the session stated that they appreciated any science-based advice provided by FAO and WHO, but also pointed out that there were many other sources of science-based data and information that CCNFSDU had to consider in seeking consensus on standards and related texts.
The 29th CCNFSDU session had requested FAO and WHO to provide Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) reviews of all food additives allowed in Codex standards where the products would be used in the feeding of infants under the age of 12 weeks. The meeting was informed that WHO has no current plan to carry out this requested review in JECFA.
The major agenda item in the 30th Session was the preparation of an agreed Codex definition of dietary fiber. Work on this definition had been started in CCNFSDU more that 10 years ago, but was suspended two years ago when WHO introduced a proposed definition that only fiber from fruits, some vegetables and whole grain products could be considered as fiber. This WHO proposal was apparently made to CCNFSDU and Codex in general as a means to promote increased consumption of fruits, some, but not all, vegetable products, and whole grains. The WHO proposal was not based on science, and ignored the many other fibers that are natural foods or ingredients added to processed food, or other chemically altered products that act as fiber when added to foods. In this CCNFSDU session WHO made a long presentation on their idea of fiber, but the Codex Member countries in their deliberations prepared a final definition for fiber that was based on current scientific consensus and did not accept the restrictive WHO draft definition.
The revised definition that was prepared and adopted by the CCNFSDU at this session covers all fiber sources used in food products and naturally present fiber. Because of controversy created by the WHO position on the acceptance of oligosaccharides with a degree of polymerisation (DP) between 3 and 9, inclusion of these substances as fiber was left to national authorities in a footnote to the definition. Polysaccharides with a DP of 10 or higher were accepted fully in the final definition. The inclusion of fiber sources with a DP of 10 or more in the body of the definition did not reflect the opinion of many Codex delegations at the CCNFSDU, so the footnote to the definition is important to its application. The definition, as revised in the session, was adopted by CCNFSDU and will be forwarded to the 2009 Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission for adoption at Step 8, the final step in the eight-step approval process of Codex.
There was a related agenda item on acacia gum as a carrier or coating agent for minor but important ingredients such as vitamins and minerals. Proposals at the previous CCNFSDU session resulted in recommendations that such use be at either 100 mg/kg, or result in a level of 10 mg/kg in ready-to-eat products for infants and young children. A representative of the African countries producing acacia gum pointed out that using acacia gum as a coating agent required levels of at least 100 mg/kg to prevent oxidation of the protected vitamins and minerals in food products, but that the level in the finished, ready-to-eat food would be less than 10 mg/kg. The delegation of Australia pointed out that acacia gum is allowed at higher levels as an emulsifier or thickening agent in such products, and that acacia gum can be used at GMP levels according to the Codex General Standard for Food Additives. After some discussion, the CCNFSDU adopted a level of 10 mg/kg of acacia gum that results from the use of acacia gum as a carrier or coating agent in ready-to-eat food products for infants and young children. This CCNFSDU decision will be forwarded to the next session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission for adoption at Step 8.
An agenda item on draft nutritional risk analysis principles and guidelines for application to the work of the CCNFSDU (at Step 7 of the Codex procedure) was considered by the session. A physical working group held immediately prior to the session had reviewed the draft text and made some changes that were recommended to the 30th Session. After some discussion and changes to the previous text, the amended document was adopted by the 30th Session, and will be forwarded to the 2009 Codex Alimentarius session for adoption at Step 8.
Similarly, a draft recommendation on the scientific basis of health claims was discussed as Agenda Item 6. A physical working group that met immediately prior to the 30th session had reviewed the draft and made some suggested changes to it. The 30th session made some additional changes to the draft and adopted it at Step 5/8 of the Codex approval process. It will be sent to the 2009 Commission session for adoption at Step 5/8 with the recommendation that steps 6 and 7 be omitted.
An agenda item on nutrition reference levels (NRVs) for vitamins and minerals to be used in the labeling of foods was not accepted by the 30th session. A number of points regarding age-sex difference, upper limits of intake, and suitable data sources needed to establish NRVs led the Committee to agree to return the draft to Step 2/3 of the Codex process, with further work done by a Codex electronic Working Group before further discussion at the 31st CCNFSDU session.
A similar discussion paper discussion on General Principles for the addition of essential nutrients led to a recommendation that further work was needed. A Codex electronic working group was established to carry out additional work before the 31st CCNFSDU session in November 2009.
Agenda Items of the preparation of a standard for processed cereal-based foods for underweight infants, and on revision of Codex Guidelines on Formulated Supplementary Foods for Older Infants and Young Children were discussed together. There was strong support for both items from developing country delegations from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. The European Commission delegation stated that there were questions that needed to be resolved with regard to the background papers before the Session, and requested further consideration of these items. The Committee agreed to establish two electronic working groups to further develop revised proposals for work on these two areas, to be discussed in more detail at the 31st CCNFSDU session.
Because of limited time available to the 30th session, there was only a brief discussion of the possible relationship between the CCNFSDU and the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. The Committee agreed that the USA and Thailand would prepare a paper on this topic for the 31st CCNFSDU session.
The next meeting of the CCNFSDU will be held in Germany from 2-6 November 2009.
The 30th Session adopted a report of its decisions and discussions that can be found on the FAO website for Codex. This website (www.codexalimentarius.net) also contains the working papers for the 30th session of CCNFSDU
Dr John Lupien is a former (1986-2000) Chief of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission and former Director of the FAO Food and Nutrition Division, and is a Fellow of the International Academy of Food Science and Technology (IAFoST); E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org