The collaboration of several highly respected scientists has led to the publication of an article discussing the impact of Codex on international food regulatory guidelines. The article reflects presentations and discussions on food safety and claims policies during a 2010 scientific conference held in Europe, sponsored by CRN-I. The article, accepted for publication in the June issue of the peer-reviewed journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, is titled “Scientific issues related to Codex Alimentarius goals: A review of principles, with examples,” and focuses on the Codex Alimentarius framework that guides many international food standards, and is recognized by two United Nations organizations, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The authors note that while Codex decisions are not binding, many governments routinely look to Codex when developing their national food regulations, including those applied to imported products. The authors acknowledge that there must be guidelines in place to protect consumers, establish fair trade practices and ensure the integrity and quality of food products, but caution that too often regulatory agencies make policy decisions based solely on the results of Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) or the “risk perception” of the public at large. The authors argue that these can be poor methods for determining the role and safety of nutrients in supporting good health. Instead, the authors maintain that these policy decisions should be made based on the entire body of evidence available, including observational data, and identifying acceptable safety limits should be based “on a robust scientific approach.”
The establishment of Codex as a scientific advisory body came about as a result of the introduction of new additives to food products in the 1950’s, creating challenges for regulatory agencies that were tasked with determining the safety of these products. The article points out that, “attempts to face this challenge often went beyond the ability and/or the capacity of individual national regulatory agencies. Moreover, it soon became evident that when national agencies ventured alone to tackle the task of the health evaluation of these new substances, a confusing heterogeneity of regulations ensued. To remedy this situation, international efforts led to the establishment of institutionalized mechanisms dealing with the safety evaluation of chemicals in food.”
Over several decades Codex guidelines and standards have broadened to reflect cultural changes and scientific advances, and to a large degree have been useful and effective. But the authors caution, “measuring the health benefits of a food is a dramatic challenge. Foods are complex mixtures of nutrients and other bioactives, concurrently triggering many metabolic pathways.” Further they add that the “challenge to developing regulations to promote public health with nutrition is to combine scientific scrutiny with a pragmatic approach to decision making without misleading the consumer or misdirecting critical resources.”
The authors argue that a product category’s history of safe use should be considered in making policy recommendations, and they go so far as stating that, “The global regulatory system would benefit from an internationally recognized definition for history of safe use and agreed set of criteria to establish such a history.”
The authors were Arpad Somogy, John Hathcock, Hans Konrad Biesalsk, Jeffrey B. Blumberg, Jean-Michel Antoine, Gareth Edwards, and Peter Prock.
Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology is the official journal of the International Society for Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (ISRTP). The article will be published in the June 2011 issue of the journal and will be available for viewing at the ISRTP website.
CRN-I, the international subsidiary of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, will hold its second scientific symposiumin Kronberg im Taunus, Germany on 12 November 2011, immediately prior to a Codex committee meeting (CCNFSDU). This year’s symposium, “Nutrition Issues in Codex: Health Claims and Nutrient Reference Values,” is designed to bring together international regulators, policymakers, nutrition scientists and academics to engage in science-based discussions on nutrition issues related to the Codex Alimentarius. Space is limited, so please visit http://www.crn-i.ch/ to learn more.