Codex Alimentarius Commission update

By Catherine Watkins

In This Section

June 2009

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC; Rome, Italy) was established in 1963 by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in food trade through the development of standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and other recommendations relating to foods, food production, and food safety.

The Codex Alimentarius (Latin for "food code") is the result of the work of the Commission and its almost 20 technical committees. The Codex Alimentarius is recognized by the World Trade Organization as an international reference point for the resolution of disputes concerning food safety and consumer protection. 

AOCS Technical Director Richard Cantrill attended recent meetings of two Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) committees that deal with issues of interest to the fats and oils industry. Topics discussed included work to update the standard on named vegetable oils, amendments to the standard on olive oil, the code of practice for the storage and transport of edible fats and oils in bulk, and evaluation of accepted methods of analysis and sampling for the detection of foods derived from biotechnology.

As a global provider of methods of analysis, AOCS is pleased to support its members by ensuring that the relevant methods are referenced in Codex standards," Cantrill said. "Codex recognizes the value of consensus-driven standards development and the work of Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) in the food quality/safety arena."


The 21st Session of the Codex Committee on Fats and Oils (CFO) was held February 16-20, 2009, in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Approximately 110 delegates attended from 38 countries and seven nongovernmental organizations.

At this meeting, the committee agreed to:

  • advance to Step 8 the Draft Amendment to the Standard for Named Vegetable Oil: Inclusion of Rice Bran Oil. Following a final round of comments, it is expected the standard will be adopted by Codex.
  • advance to Step 5 the Proposed Draft Criteria to Assess the Acceptability of Substances for Inclusion in a List of Acceptable Previous Cargoes. The criteria were developed in November 2007 in a special consultation by FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) and have been reviewed at two CFO sessions.
  • advance to Step 5 the Proposed Draft Amendment to the Standard for Named Vegetable Oil: Inclusion of Palm Kernel Olein and Palm Kernel Stearin.
  • propose to discontinue work on the amendment to the Standard for Named Vegetable Oils on total carotenoids in unbleached palm oil. The CFO previously had been unable to reach consensus on the amendment because of lack of data; work undertaken by Indonesia indicated that low total carotenoid levels in unbleached palm oils were associated with varieties of less significance to the production of palm oil in Indonesia, and so the proposed amendment was withdrawn.
  • propose a revised list of additives in the standards for fats and oils for endorsement by the Committee on Food Additives and adoption by the Commission.
  • request the Commission to approve the amendment to the section on Contaminants in the Standard for Named Vegetable Oils to replace it with the standard language in the Format for Codex Commodity Standards.

The CFO also agreed to:

  • retain at Step 7 the Draft List of Acceptable Previous Cargoes and to return to Step 3 the Proposed Draft List of Acceptable Previous Cargoes (essentially, a list of items not included in the draft list) for comments and consideration at the next session.
  • return to Step 3 the Proposed Draft Amendment to the Standard for Olive Oils and Olive Pomace Oils on the level of linolenic acid and related footnote. The standard-33-1981 (Rev. 2-2001)-was made final in 2003. Since then, the maximum level of a-linolenic acid has been a subject of debate. The discussion revolves around issues of the quality and authenticity of olive oils; if no progress is made at the next CFO meeting, the work on the proposed draft amendment will be discontinued.
  • not consider further the proposal for future work on the composition and naming of fatty acid-modified vegetable oils.

The 22nd Session of the Codex Committee on Fats and Oils has been scheduled to be held in Malaysia in February 2011. The venue and date are yet to be determined. The agenda for the meeting is available at .


The 30th Session of the Codex Committee on Method of Analysis and Sampling (CCMAS) was held March 9-13, 2009, in Balatonalmádi, Hungary, with 150 participants from 30 countries and eight NGOs. CCMAS defines criteria for Codex methods of analysis and sampling and coordinates the work of Codex with other international groups working in methods of analysis and sampling and quality assurance systems for laboratories.

CCMAS also specifies reference methods of analysis and sampling for Codex Standards and considers and endorses methods of analysis and sampling proposed by Codex committees, except those related to pesticide residues and veterinary drugs in food, the assessment of microbiological quality and safety in food and food additives. It also considers issues submitted to it by the Codex Alimentarius Commission and defines procedures, protocols, and guidelines for quality assurance systems and assessment of proficiency for food laboratories.

At the session the committee agreed to:

  • advance to Step 8 the Draft Guidelines for Settling Disputes on Analytical (Test) Results.
  • advance to Step 8 the Draft Guidelines on Analytical Terminology.
  • endorse or update the status of several methods of analysis in Codex Standards.
  • propose a consequential amendment to the Working Instructions for the Implementation of the Criteria Approach in Codex in the Procedural Manual.
  • discontinue work on the Draft Guidelines for Evaluating Acceptable Methods of Analysis.
  • return to Step 2/3 the Proposed Draft Guidelines on Criteria for Methods for the Detection and Identification of Foods Derived from Biotechnology. CCMAS first considered the possible expansion of the scope of the guidelines. Some delegations felt they should apply not only to genetically modified materials but also to a wide range of food safety issues such as allergens, contaminants, and pathogens. Other delegations opposed the expansion in scope. CCMAS members noted that there was "an urgent need for technical guidance on methodology applied to genetically modified foods and a need to facilitate harmonization at the international level."

     Cantrill noted that the work program of ISO/TC 34/SC 16 "Horizontal Methods for Molecular Biomarker Analysis" (see inform 19:603-604, 2008) would produce guidelines and validated methods for molecular biomarker analysis.

     After further discussion, CCMAS returned the text to Step 2 and established an electronic working group, co-chaired by Argentina and the United Kingdom, to revise the proposed draft guidelines. The revised text will be circulated for comments at Step 3 and will be considered at the next CCMAS session.

  • return to Step 2/3 the Proposed Draft Revised Guidelines on Measurement Uncertainty.
  • consider further at its next session guidance on uncertainty of sampling and the methods of analysis for natural waters.

The 31st Session of the Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling will be held in Hungary, March 2010. The agenda is available at


Cantrill also attended the 21st meeting of the International Organisations Working in the Field of Methods of Analysis and Sampling (IAM). AOCS is secretariat for the group, which met March 6 in Budapest. Attendees included representatives from various international standard-setting organizations.

A meeting of experts was convened in the framework of the ISO International Workshop Agreement on Sampling to attempt to rationalize existing international standards for sampling grain and oilseeds. As a result, a modification of ISO/DIS 24333 with tables representing current dockside and trade practices has been prepared and is in the process of further elaboration.

The IAM also considered the criteria approach to methods of analysis selection and agreed that it should not replace the need for official methods of analysis, and that methods should be selected according to the criteria specified in Codex provisions to ensure that they are "fit-for purpose." IAM recognized that the criteria approach focused on methods of analysis for small molecules and might not be applicable to PCR (polymer chain reaction) and ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) techniques.

IAM and MoniQA (Monitoring and Quality Assurance in the Food Supply Chain) held a workshop in Budapest on March 8, 2009, on the development of methods of analysis and measurement uncertainty, which was attended by many CCMAS delegates. There, Cantrill invited CCMAS participants to make proposals for a future workshop in 2010. (Funded by the European Union, MoniQA brings together 33 organizations from around the world that are working together to help food manufacturers, retail outlets, and regulatory bodies cope with the challenges posed by a globalized food economy.)

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and MoniQA are undertaking some modeling exercises concerning the validation of qualitative methods; some of the results were presented to the IAM/MoniQA workshop. The IAM also considered the question of the availability of reagents and concerns related to the proprietary nature of monoclonal antibodies and whether these restricted the development of rapid methods of detection in some areas

The next meeting of the IAM will be held prior to the 31st Session of the CCMAS in March 2010.


The Third Session of the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods (CCCF) was held on March 23-27, 2009, at Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Four documents from the Committee will go forward to the Commission at Step 8, including:

  • General Standards for Contaminants and Toxins in Foods; Code of Practice (COP) for the Reduction of Acrylamide in Food.
  • OP for Reduction of Food Contamination with Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons from Smoking and Direct Drying Processes.
  • COP for the Prevention and Reduction of Ochratoxin A Contamination in Coffee.

Other contaminants discussed were total aflatoxins in Brazil nuts, fumonisins in corn and its products, benzene in soft drinks, cyanogenic glycosides, mycotoxins in sorghum, and ethyl carbamate in alcoholic beverages. Proposed new work for this committee includes revising the COP for the Prevention and Reduction of Aflatoxins in Tree Nuts and establishing maximum levels of nonintentional melamine in food and feed and fumonisins in corn and corn products. Sampling remains a key issue in determining the levels of many nonhomogeneously distributed contaminants.

Catherine Watkins is associate editor of inform. She can be reached at


For further reading:

Codex List of Current Standards-

Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods-final report:

Codex Committee on Fats and Oils-final report (February 16-20, 2009 meeting):

Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling-final report (March 9-13, 2009 meeting):

Development of Criteria for Acceptable Previous Cargoes for Fats and Oils, November 2007, 63-page free e-book available at

International Organisations Working in the Field of Methods of Analysis and Sampling-final report: