Photo of Katia Merten-LentzPhoto of Christophe Leprêtre

Yesterday, the 41st session of the Codex alimentarius Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU41) started  in Dusseldorf (Germany).  The meeting was preceded by a working group to finalise recommendations to the plenary on a mechanism for future inclusion of food additives in “baby – and other special dietary uses – foods” standards and help ensuring the future alignment with the Codex alimentarius General Standard on Food Additive (GSFA).

 

Written by Christophe Leprêtre[1] supported by Katia Merten-Lentz[2].

This article is published by World Food Regulation Review

 

International food safety and nutrition regulators meet again in Germany during the last 10 days of November to (i) finalize the revision of the standard on follow up formulas; (ii) advance for finalization the standard on ready-to-use “therapeutic” foods; (iii) discuss again conditions of use and the usefulness of Trans Fatty Acids “free of” claims while considering risk management options for curbing down presence of some or all TFAs in foods; (iv) consider what to do with the definition of “biofortification” after the CCFL U-turn on it; (v) see how NRVs for older infants and young children new work may start; (vi) finalize the mechanism/framework for considering the technological justification of food additives in baby foods and other special dietary use foods while discussion new work on alignment of food additive provisions in CCNFSDU standards with the GSFA; (vii) consider a discussion paper on probiotics guidelines in foods and food supplements; (viii) consider a discussion paper on nutrition profiling systems guidelines; (ix) consider relevant feedbacks from other Codex bodies (especially the CCFLabelling one); and, (x) discuss the further prioritization of CCNFSDU work.

 

The 41st session of the Codex alimentarius Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU41) is being held in Düsseldorf (Germany), from 24th to 29th November 2019 (exceptionally six day long, starting on a Sunday), and is preceded by a dedicated ad hoc working group to finalise recommendations to the plenary on a mechanism for future inclusion of food additives in “baby – and other special dietary uses – foods” standards and help ensuring the future alignment with the Codex alimentarius General Standard on Food Additive (GSFA).

 

Revision of the current standard on follow up formula: “this is it” (well, it should be it…but not entirely…)

It is clear that the fairly new chair of the CCNFSDU41 and the Committee overall have a great responsibility this year on finalizing the work on that revision. The Committee has been already granted by the Codex alimentarius Commission two extensions to complete this work beyond the initial timeline.

CCNFSDU41 is to focus on very political issues. It includes the scope and definitions of the products covered by the standard, whether cross-references to WHO technical documents more or less endorsed by the World Health Assembly are worth adding to Codex Commodity Standards of this kind, and the section on labelling. The part on cross-promotion was not endorsed as such by the CCFL nor advanced in the step proves by the CAC. The committee is expected to review 34 pages of comments.

Other sections will be discussed for the first time by CCNFSDU. This is the case for the section dedicated to foods for young children, including, amongst others, the “purity” (i.e. composition) requirements, presence of vitamin compounds and mineral salts, the consistency and particle size, specific prohibitions, food additives (excluding flavourings but including the conditions under which the presence of carried-over food additives and nutrient carriers are tolerated), flavourings, contaminants, hygiene, packaging, fill of container and last but not least, methods of analysis and sampling.  The working document suggests a further extension  of two years to complete the work, s . It also may pave the way for a split of the current standard in two pieces.  CCNFSDU41 may discuss the structure of the future revised standard with that mindset.

CCNFSDU41 will consider a few fundamental issues, such as a minimum dextrose equivalent of 15 when non-milk substitutes are used as a source of carbohydrates (instead of lactose); and the currently fairly insidious prohibition of “substances with the purpose of imparting or enhancing a sweet taste” which is vague enough to include food additive with sweetener functions, which are anyway not permitted in such products while the sources of carbohydrates and restrictions to the presence of mono- and disaccharides in the revised standard cover already those aspects. The committee is expected to review 32 pages of comments…

More to report in next WFRR issue

 

Guidelines on Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods

The coming session of the CCNFSDU Committee is also expected to review recommendations from an electronic working group (EWG) which has developed the never-discussed-before provisions on (i) food additives technical justified in RUTFs and on (ii) protein composition requirements (i.e. min 13 g/100g (2.4 g/100 Kcal) and max 16.5 g/100 g (3.2 g/100 Kcal)). The EWG also recommends to consult CCFA on where to place RUTF products in the GSFA (for a possible 1 to 1 food category correspondence), possibly as a plain subcategory of food category 13 (“Foods intended for particular nutritional uses”).

CCNFSDU41 is also expected to review the fifteen pending recommendations from the report of the 2018 EWG on RUTFs that CCFSDU40 did not consider due to a lack of time.

Clearly, these guidelines need to be advanced this time, as they are fundamental harmonizing documents for global procurement from UN agencies (UNCEF, WFP) and health care providers in places where populations are suffering from severe and acute malnutrition.

More to report in next WFRR issue

 

“Free of” Claims for trans fatty acids in foods and risk management options

CCNFSDU41 is expected to give further consideration of setting conditions for the use of “TFA free” claims. This may also trigger wider discussions on all types of flourishing “Free of” claims. Those are generally factual content-claims, but often genuinely ambiguously suggesting that the substance or the compound or the nutrient subject to that “free of” claim comports some hazards or some risks to human health, which often is not the case, but surfing on consumer fears and believes rather than scientific facts (e.g. “free of aspartame”, “free of artificial color”, etc.).

CCNFSDU is expected to consider various wider options, called “risk management options”  meaning that TFA may be viewed as a noxious substance? Or is it based on proper nutritional risk assessment, i.e. exposure ?

CCNFSDU may consider as one of the options to “adopt regulations that limit TFA levels in processed food”, while processed foods in this context is viewed as “prepackaged processed foods (e.g. sold in grocery stores) and non-prepackaged processed foods (e.g. sold in foodservice establishments)”. It is not by accident neither that a footnote in the document indicates that those “risk” managing options are not exhaustive and other measures such as “actions involving fiscal levers such as taxation or subsidies, investments in agricultural research and development, public awareness or education campaigns or menu labelling”, which relate rather to nutrition policies and education which are outside Codex alimentarius scope of work.

The second option is “developing voluntary limits for TFA levels in processed foods”. This option is not the one preferred by WHO by nor countries viewing nutrition policy as a public policy only (i.e. driven by constraints, restrictive and punitive regulations).

The third option would be to “adopt regulations that prohibit the use of partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) in processed foods”, noting that PHOs are leading to certain types of industrially produced TFAs, which are the ones where there is a string of evidence showing their possible involvement in some noncommunicable diseases.

The fourth option would be to “develop resources to support the reduction of processing-induced TFA in processed foods”; and possibly defer to the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods (CCCF) to “develop a code of practice to reduce the content of processing-induced TFA in foods”; given that the main health issue related to those TFAs is clearly linked to their neo-formation during the partially hydrogenation processing of edible fats and oils. That would make the system even more coherent and demonstrate that some processing may lead to nutritionally impactful and noxious substances and should be managed as such.

Future may tell

 

Proposed draft definition for biofortification

This is the epilogue of an incredible story. CCNFSDU has developed a definition for biofortification at the request of CCFL. CCNFSDU achieved last year a fair level of consensus on a definition, enriched with various footnotes, after almost 5 years of hard work and numerous inter-sessions EWGs.

Against all the odds, CCFL45 decided last May that the definition for biofortification proposed didn’t fit the initial purpose.  While acknowledging the tremendous work done by CCNFSDU, CCFL45 agreed that the current labelling texts were adequate for CCFL purposes and that there was no need for defining biofortification in the context of food labelling. But then last July, CCEXEC77 and CAC42 discussed this issue. The same arguments were repeated over again. CAC42 finally (i) clarified that the work on the development of the definition on biofortification was the responsibility of the CCNFSDU and (ii) CCNFSDU was asked to discuss further the issue while considering at the same time the possibility to discontinue the work, following the feedback from CCFL45.

Let’s see what CCNFSDU may think about that dead-end outcome at the CCFL level and the instructions given by the CCEXEC/CAC.

The observer of IFPRI has produced comments currently included in CRD 5 of CCNFSDU41.[3]  The very last Act of this Shakespearian piece is still to be written in Düsseldorf but is almost ineluctable…

 

Nutrition Profiling Guidelines, should I stay or should I go?

CCNFSDU41 is to come to a conclusion as to whether, given the parallel work already well advanced by the CCFL on Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling (FOPNL) guidelines, the  CCNFSDU should start elaborating mutually beneficial guidelines on nutrition profiling systems, Those guidelines would  focus  on more-than-simply-informative FOPNL schemes (e.g. color coded schemes, stop sign schemes, nutriscoring schemes, etc.) . This schems  are all based on simple-to-complex algorithms, the parameters of which (i.e. the thresholds for nutrients of concerns) can be changed anytime and lead to situations where the same food product could be labelled differently, depending on each country choice or within a country at a different point in time, and then mislead the consumer. They constitute the best even market protective non-tariff barrier to trade, some say a TBT one, others believe a SPS one.

 

Other issues

 

  • Probiotics guidelines

It is a very strategic moment for all companies developing their growth strategies on probiotics and communication on their claimed health benefits which have not yet been universally recognised as plain foods or food supplements. CCNFSDU41 is to consider the development of guidelines  on how probiotics may be regulated in such food applications. The revised discussion paper from last year has been drastically simplified[4]. More to report in next WFRR issue

 

  • NRV-R for young children

Based on undisputable scientific evidence that the nutritional needs for young children may differ from those of the general population, CCNFSDU41 may consider to embark on a expectedly long journey in developing NRV-Rs for Nutrition Labelling Purposes, dedicated to personalised foods for the segment of population covered by the concept  “young children”.

 

  • Mechanism/framework for considering the technological justification of food additives and alignment of food additive provisions in CCFSDU-developed standards with Codex GSFA

Based on the undisputable recognition that the Codex alimentarius General Standard on Food Additives (GSFA) must be, in a few years from now, the unique reference for information on permitted food additive uses, including the use thereof in baby foods and foods for special dietary uses, CCNFSDU is expected to start working on that alignment process, as requested by CCFA and its year-to-year EWG on Alignment.

CCNFSDU41 will also consider the recommendation from the pre-session PWG to finalise the last provision of the mechanism/framework for considering the technological justification of food additives covered in the scope of CCNFSDU. It aims to ensure that in the future, once the alignment work is complete, any further consideration of new food additive provisions will be kept consistent between the GSFA (in relevant food categories covering CCNFSDU products) and those parallel provisions or cross-reference to GSFA in the various commodity standards developed and maintained up-to-date or newly developed by the CCNFSDU.

 

  • Discussion paper on a prioritization mechanism to better manage the work of CCNFSDU

As per the new Codex Alimentarius Commission Strategic Framework and the request from the CCEXEC and the CAC, CCNFSDU is to discuss what system, protocol, criteria or tool(s), the CCNFSDU should put in place in order to (i) identify new areas of standardization work or needs to update existing texts under its terms of reference; and (ii) define within that list the adequate priority order. The discussion paper and its appended draft Guideline (which should probably in itself be subject to a proper project document) is worth reading, especially its final page decision-tree[5].

 

  • Issues coming from other Codex bodies and reporting of activities from WHO and FAO relevant to the work of CCNFSDU

As classical agenda items, CCNFSDU will take note of the  outcomes of other Codex committees (such as CCFL on FOPNL or the text on non-retail (B2B labelling)), CCEXEC and the CAC. CCNFSDU will also hear the various technical and policy-making activities from FAO and WHO. WHO may announced the official release of key documents on saturated fats critical review or on its regional nutrition profiles. FAO may provide further information on its recently published guidelines on the concept of “healthy” foods. Well, legally, unless a food is not proven to be unsafe, and as long as it is conform food safety standard it is deemed to be considered as “safe”. Inherently there is  no “safe food” in absolute terms, as “safe foods” are a mirage, while “food safety” or “nutritional safety” are not defined, because they are impossible to define, but “unsafe” may well be. Maybe, FAO would take this opportunity to elaborate further on the legal differences between “unsafe” and “unhealthy” foods.

 

CCNFSDU41 provisional agenda may be downloaded at http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/meetings-reports/en/  

All CCNFSDU41 working documents are available at http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/meetings/detail/en/?meeting=CCNFSDU&session=41

[1] Food Engineer, Regulatory and Scientific Counsellor at Keller and Heckman LLP

[2] Food Law Attorney & Partner at Keller and Heckman LLP

[3] Worth reading the IFPRI comments at http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/sh-proxy/en/?lnk=1&url=https%253A%252F%252Fworkspace.fao.org%252Fsites%252Fcodex%252FMeetings%252FCX-720-41%252FCRDs%252FCRD05.pdf

[4] See http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/sh-proxy/en/?lnk=1&url=https%253A%252F%252Fworkspace.fao.org%252Fsites%252Fcodex%252FMeetings%252FCX-720-41%252FWD%252Fnf41_11e.pdf

[5] See http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/sh-proxy/en/?lnk=1&url=https%253A%252F%252Fworkspace.fao.org%252Fsites%252Fcodex%252FMeetings%252FCX-720-41%252FWD%252Fnf41_10e.pdf