John Allan, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards, joined 420 delegates representing 73 different countries and 41 observer organizations last week in Berlin, Germany, for the 40th Session of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses. Allan participated as a U.S. dairy industry representative in the International Dairy Federation (IDF) delegation. The committee worked on several international food and nutrition standards and guidelines regarding follow-up formula, ready-to-use therapeutic food, front-of-pack labeling, “trans fat-free” claims, the term “probiotic” and a definition for “biofortification,” which adds nutrients to foods through genetic engineering.
By John Allan, IDFA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and International Standards
Several actions of interest to U.S. dairy occurred last week during the 40th Session of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU). The committee worked on developing several food and nutrition standards and guidelines impacting milk products and dairy-derived ingredients produced, sold and consumed around the world. Standards, guidelines and other texts developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) serve as the basis for arbitrating international trade disputes and are used by governments around the world as foundations for national legislation and regulation.
The committee made progress on revisions to the Codex Standard for Follow-Up Formula and draft Guidelines for Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food. Other topics of interest discussed included the use of nutrient profiles for supporting front-of-pack nutrition labeling schemes; proposed conditions for a “trans fat-free” claim, guidelines on the use of the term “probiotic” and a proposed definition for “biofortification.”
Codex Standard for Follow-Up Formula
Work continued this year on the development of a revised Codex Standard for Follow-up Formula (FUF), including separate sections on products for older infants, 6-12 months of age, and products for young children, 12-36 months of age. Many FUF products sold around the world are dairy-based, while others are based on non-dairy sources of protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients. Some progress was made during the week; however several long-standing issues remain unresolved, particularly on whether products for young children should be considered breastmilk substitutes. At issue is whether World Health Organization (WHO) policies and guidance, which is targeted at restricting the marketing of such products, should be directly referenced and applied to the products covered by the standard.
Also of interest, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization Joint Expert Meetings on Nutrition (JEMNU), which provides independent, nutrition-related expert advice to CCNFSDU, was tasked at last year’s meeting with establishing nitrogen-to-protein conversion factors (NCFs) for soy-based and milk-based ingredients used in both infant formula and FUF. NCFs are used in measuring crude protein content of a food or ingredient. FAO and WHO are currently seeking data from researchers in government, industry or academia related to the topic. A systematic review of existing scientific information is expected to be completed by April 2019, and a meeting of JEMNU to review and assess the quality of the evidence generated by the systematic review is expected to be held mid 2019. The level at which NCFs are set for various milk-protein-containing ingredients can impact the quantity necessary to meet nutritional compositional requirements for these products.
Codex Guidelines for Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods
Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) help to manage severe acute malnutrition (SAM), particularly in areas of the world where there is high poverty and famine. 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 SAM from 6-59 months of age.
Although dairy-based ingredients serve as major nutritional components of many RUTFs produced today, the committee agreed last year to include a reference to “other animal source products,” in addition to milk and other dairy products, to offer flexibility to manufacturers. IDF and others argued that dairy was a proven source of high quality protein and other nutrients and should remain an important component of RUTF. Although consensus was not achieved this year, a reference to at least 50 percent of protein content provided by dairy is being kept in the text for further debate next year.
Nutrient Profiles, Front-of-Pack Labeling and Marketing Restrictions to Promote Healthy Diets
In 2017, the Codex Committee on Food Labeling began work on guidance for front-of-pack nutrition labeling (FOPL) and forwarded a request to CCNFSDU to consider how it might contribute to this work. CCNFSDU agreed this year to collect a listing of FOPL systems used in various parts of the world as a first step. 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.
In addition, the WHO Nutrition Guidance Expert Advisory Group’s Subgroup on Policy Actions has recently been established and will initially focus on developing policy guidelines in three areas, namely nutrition labelling policies, policies to restrict food marketing to children and fiscal policies, such as the taxation of foods deemed unhealthy, to promote healthy diets.
Although WHO is aggressively moving forward with its own agenda to provide policy recommendations to countries, there is a clear and urgent need for better collaboration between WHO and FAO, industry and consumer stakeholders throughout the world to better ensure success.
“Trans Fat-Free” Claims
Artificial trans-fatty acids (TFAs) are formed during the industrial production of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), but some TFAs are naturally present in relatively low levels in milk, dairy products and other ruminant-derived products, like meat. Consumption of TFAs has been linked to increased levels of “bad” cholesterol and greater risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. In 2015, FDA determined that PHOs, the major source of artificial trans fat in the food supply, are no longer “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS.
During the CCNFSDU discussions, the committee generally agreed that reducing TFAs in foods was an important public health goal; however, different views were expressed on whether it was possible to set conditions for a “trans-fat free” claim, as had been proposed.
The IDF delegatation intervened during the debate, stating “. . .The component of concern is industrially produced TFA. They added, Research shows that intake of full-fat milk and dairy products is either inversely or not associated with heart disease and stroke, as well as several cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes and risk of metabolic syndrome.”
“Unless clear distinctions are made in recommendations about industrial produced trans-fatty acids, the implementation of measures targeting food and beverages ‘high’ in trans-fatty acids may well unfairly and detrimentally target milk and dairy products, therefore, we agree . . . that any future work should be limited to industrially produced trans fatty acids.”
In the end, the committee did not take a decision on the proposed draft condition for a claim for “free” from TFAs but agreed to evaluate at its next session this and other risk management options for the reduction of TFAs, which may be more feasible.
The committee discussed a proposal from Argentina to develop guidelines on the use of probiotics and related claims for use in foods and dietary supplements. Due to questions and concerns raised by several delegates like the United States and Canada regarding the scope and public health and trade concerns that would be addressed by such a guidance, the committee agreed that the proposal should be revised for consideration at its next session.
A definition for the term “biofortification” was considered by the committee, encompassing ways to fortify foods with nutrients other than by direct addition, which has been the conventional, most common approach used. Biofortification would refer to methods such as genetic engineering or other biological-level approaches to increase the content of specific nutrients or make them more bioavailable to consumers of the food. After lengthy discussion, the committee agreed to delay work until more information could be gathered on the purpose of the definition within Codex and how member states might seek to use it.
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.