Friday, July 16, 2010


The Chinese Melamine tainting episode seemed to have spurred the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAD) into taking action to preempt such incidences in future at its recent meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. It is expected that many far reaching decisions approved unanimously will further facilitate smooth international trade in foods from agricultural , live stock and fish. What is puzzling is that Melamine use for adulteration of milk and some pet products was detected only in China and why the world body has to come up with restriction limits for this toxic substance is some what odd. If different adulterants are used to defraud the consumers in different countries, is it the responsibility of Codex Commission to evolve standards for all of them? Probably Indian adulterators can provide hundreds of examples of food adulteration and CAC may have to spend years to evolve limits for all of them after generating the necessary scientific data.

"Melamine is a toxic chemical and because it is a hard synthetic substance with flame retardant properties, is commonly used in making countertops, dry erase boards, and other house wares including utensils. This toxic substance is sometimes illegally added to food products in order to increase their obvious protein content. When mixed with diluted milk it thickens the milk and make it appear rich in protein. More importantly, it would seem that normal testing of the product cannot detect the substance but shows it as protein. If consumed it causes renal and urinary problems in humans and animals when it reacts with the cyanuric acid present in the human body and sometimes in drinking water and animal feed. Due to this harmfeful nature its use in food production is universally banned. India needs no worry as melamine is not produced, consumed or exported from here, said Sanjay Shah, former Chairman of Indian Oilseeds and Produce Export Promotion Council (IOPEPC), a trade body set up by the Ministry of Commerce".

"As far as aflatoxin goes, it seems UN has relaxed the norm, said Shah. Maximum levels of 10 micrograms/kg were set for aflatoxins in Brazil nuts (shelled, ready-to-eat) and 15 micrograms/kg for shelled Brazil nuts (intended for further processing), while the Commission also adopted a code of practice to prevent this contamination. Aflatoxins are carcinogenic fungal toxins that can contaminate corn, peanuts and other food crops such as tree nuts under certain conditions. The new Codex measures provide specific guidance for production, harvesting, packing, processing, storage, distribution, marketing and consumer education to reduce food safety risks associated with these products. Guidance covers such aspects as the control of irrigation waters, cooling and storage and correct washing of hands by consumers".

"The methods used for analysis and sampling are the necessary basis for food inspection and control. The new Guidelines adopted by the Commission will make it possible to run tests to determine if foods are derived from modern biotechnology, to authenticate food varieties such as fish species and to establish the presence of allergens," the WHO said. "The WHO welcomed the agreement on the food safety guidelines as an "important international consensus" in the area of biotechnology where the Commission has already developed a number of guidelines related to food safety assessments for foods derived from modern biotechnology. The Codex Alimentarius Commission sets international food standards to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade. It is the longest-standing example of inter-agency cooperation in the UN system, and has 182 member-states and one member organization, the 27-nation European Union".

Though the protocols and standards are based on consensus, it does not prevent member countries from importing products not conforming to the CAC parameters. A country like India probably may integrate most of the standards with its own national bench scale marks for ensuring food safety within and avoid trade disputes with other countries.


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