John Allan, IDFA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and International Standards
John Allan, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards, joined more than 350 delegates representing 66 different countries and 39 observer organizations last week in Berlin, Germany, for the 39th Session of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU). The committee worked on developing several food and nutrition standards of importance to the dairy industry, including the Codex Standard for Follow-up Formula.
Standards, guidelines and other Codex texts are used as the basis for arbitrating international trade disputes and are used by governments around the world as foundations for national legislation and regulation.
Allan served as part of the U.S. delegation, which was led by Douglas Balentine, Ph.D., the director of the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Following a full agenda, the committee made significant progress on revisions to the Codex Standard for Follow-Up Formula and agreed to request expert scientific advice on measuring the protein content of milk- and soy-based infant formula and follow-up formula. It also postponed discussion on the use of nutrient profiles for supporting front-of-package nutrition labeling schemes and continued work on the Codex Guidelines for Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF).
Codex Standard for Follow-Up Formula
The committee made important progress on key compositional requirements, but differing views and lack of time stalled progress on other key sections.
One of the more controversial discussions within the committee centered around the inclusion of certain references to guidance and other policy recommendations on infant nutrition and marketing restrictions for milk products, which were developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), and related resolutions passed by WHO member states at the World Health Assembly.
IDFA and others in the food industry, along with several governments, including the United States, have expressed concerns regarding the implications of embedding such references in Codex or other international standards, particularly when they are not developed through a science-based, transparent and consensus-driven process. The committee agreed to postpone further discussion until the next session in December 2018 due to the lack of consensus.
“It will be critical for the global food industry to continue talking to governments around the world about the importance of maintaining the integrity and scientific basis of Codex standard-setting between now and the next CCNFSDU meeting in December 2018,” said Allan. “Otherwise, we risk seeing more and more governments unnecessarily restricting the sale and consumption of safe, nutritious dairy products, like follow-up formula, which can and do play vital roles in ensuring children around the world are well-nourished.”
Nitrogen-to-Protein Conversion Factors for Milk and Soy Proteins
The committee also agreed to request expert advice from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meeting on Nutrition (JEMNU) on the appropriate nitrogen-to-protein conversion factor to use when determining the protein content of soy-derived or milk-derived protein ingredients used in infant formula and follow-up formula. It will be the first meeting of JEMNU, which was chartered to provide independent expert advice directly to Codex on nutrition matters. Until now, Codex has been relying on advice from WHO and other expert groups convened outside of the Codex system. The United States and Canada have agreed to provide funding for the panel.
“IDFA has advocated over the past few years for JEMNU to be launched and to serve as the primary source of nutrition advice for Codex,” Allan said. “This is a very important step in the right direction for Codex. We hope to see JEMNU gain funding support from other Codex member countries, as well, and be up and running on a regular basis very soon.”
Composition Provisions Advance, Scope and Labeling Sections on Hold
The committee made good progress on the compositional requirements within the Standard for Follow-Up Formula, including minimum protein content and maximum carbohydrate and sugar content. The committee agreed to advance the essential composition requirements for products for older infants and young children at Step 5 of the Codex process. However, there were other parts of the standard that were held back for further discussion over the coming year by a working group, including provisions on labeling, scope and definitions.
Nutrient Profiles and Front-of-Pack Labeling
Earlier this fall, the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL) began work on guidance for front-of-pack nutrition labeling and forwarded a request to CCNFSDU to consider how it might contribute to this work. Subsequently, the governments of Costa Rica and Paraguay prepared a proposal for CCNFSDU to develop Codex guidelines on how to create nutrient profiles for foods.
Some front-of-pack systems currently required by governments use nutrient profiles to score the overall nutritional value of a particular food. Other systems simply place certain nutrient content information on the front of the package, similar to the Facts Up Front system being adopted in the United States on a voluntary basis by numerous food companies.
After some conversation, CCNFSDU agreed to postpone further discussion and any decisions on starting new work because CCFL had not reached a decision on whether nutrient profile-based front-of-pack labeling schemes would be included in the guidance. Discussion will continue at next year’s meeting, but since CCFL does not meet again until early 2019, CCNFSDU may not be able to take any decisions until 2019.
Codex Guidelines for Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF)
Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods help to manage severe acute malnutrition. These Codex guidelines are intended to provide guidance for industry, aid organizations and government authorities in ensuring a consistent supply of safe and nutritionally-appropriate RUTF products across borders. Although these products are given to other age groups with various forms of malnutrition, the primary focus for these Codex guidelines is children with severe acute malnutrition from 6-59 months of age.
Although dairy-based ingredients serve as major nutritional components of many RUTFs produced today, the committee agreed to include a reference to “other animal source products” in addition to milk and other dairy products to offer flexibility to manufacturers.
The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of standards, guidelines and codes of practice adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). Assembled by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization, the CAC is the only international forum bringing together government regulators, scientists, technical experts, as well as international consumer and industry organizations, to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in food trade.
The Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses develops and reviews nutrition-related provisions in Codex texts developed by other Codex Committees and also drafts standards and texts for foods for special dietary uses. It is hosted by the government of Germany and meets every 12 months.
For more information, contact Allan at firstname.lastname@example.org.