Date: Mar 16, 2018
The forthcoming 50th meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Additives (CCFA50) is expected to make significant progress in reducing the backlog on food additives other than sweeteners and colours, but will also discuss important changes to the ways the Committee is working to move towards a “CCFA 2.0”.
The meeting will also address the important suggested enhanced alignment of the food additive provisions included in the Codex General Standard on Food Additives (GSFA) with vertical food standards on fish and fishery products and is expected to continue that fundamental work on other standardized foods. CCFA50 will also address the regular points on its agenda regarding actions of other Codex bodies, the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Meeting on Food Additives (JECFA), revisions to the class names and international numbering system for food additives, and assignment of new priority items for review by JECFA.
The contentious issue on “Note 161” is back on the agenda of this CCFA meeting, but really is it an real issue? This article explores the views and forces in presence and tries to put the future discussion into perspective.
The 50th session of the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Additives will be held in Xiamen (China) from 26 to 30 March 2018, preceded by an important pre-session working group in person (PWG) to advance recommendations to the CCFA50 plenary. These will especially include recommendations regarding the draft pending provisions discussed since last year by an electronic working group on GSFA and proposals on new or revised-adopted provisions. The session will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CCFA. It will also be marked by a landmark leadership change as its historical chairman, the honourable Pr Junshi Chen3 , will pass on the relay to his talented protégé Dr Yongxiang Fan, who has already demonstrated the necessary skills as vice-chairperson at CCFA49 last year. Nostalgic “Codexians” already deeply regret the highly-recognized chairmanship of Pr Chen (one of the best in the Codex system to be frank) and all he has accomplished for the CCFA and the Codex Alimentarius standards in general in the past eleven years (and well before then); at the same time, newcoming “Codexians” already have great expectations about Dr Fan’s style and leadership.
CCFA50’s agenda Item 8 working document on Future Strategies, towards a “CCFA 2.0”: great hopes to see CCFA addressing differently outstanding issues and adopting new ways CCFA may operate to speed up new substances and provisions in the future and accelerating the completion of GSFA4
Many countries are realising that referring to national authorities’ flexibility to implement Codex standards may impact their rights and obligations under the World Trade Organizations SPS and TBT Agreements. But it should be noted that the two are in fact disconnected. All Codex standards are in principle voluntary (i.e. country members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission have no obligation to implement Codex text, as this is non-binding international “soft law”). Nevertheless, it is an acceptable argument to consider that “additives” fall under the WTO SPS (for safety aspects) and TBT (for fair practices to consumers) and thus the issue of Note 161 is not solely a “Codex” issue.
The working document offers some pathways as a starting point for further discussion to consider whether this Note 161 glass is half-full or half-empty, or simply for recognising what any Codex text is. Note 161 may not be necessary at all, as it is simply repeating the nature of any Codex adopted provision. But its deletion from GSFA may be replaced by at least an overall common understanding about the next step “rules of the game” in future negotiations on pending provisions.
What food business operators fear the most from that discussion is to end up with some self-destructive battle (each opposing party may indeed stick to its own interpretation of Note 161). Food business operators do overall agree on one thing: CCFA should swiftly complete its work on GSFA and consider many 20+ year-old pending provisions, put on-hold for discussion because of more than 10 years of total misunderstanding – and probably mistrust – over the Note 161 genesis and ways it has been used by CCFA and its PWG on GSFA in the past. There too, there is hope that all new standard-making regulators in the various country delegations – bearing in mind the reasons for the recent failed attempt to resolve the issue of Note 161 to intense sweeteners – would lead to a more constructive and open minded dialogue on the pending provisions for several colours. This includes natural colours which are desperately needed by food business operators for possible reformulation to serve consumer demand for “healthier” processed foods – whether real or perceived; that’s another debate – and for helping to ensure the Codex GSFAbecomes more and more an effective unique point of reference for global harmonization on food additives After all, examples of references to national and regional competent authorities added to the Codex commodity standards to deviate from them are legion (see WFRR Vol. 27, Number 7 issue, December 2017 – CCNFSDU39 Outcome – discussion on FUF composition) and relate to provisions with dual WTO SPS/TBT aspects embedded in them, and it does not create the same crispation. Future will tell but the “good will” to search for agreeable solution(s) to all parties is going to be the key factor to gradually resolve the “Note 161” issue. But this will only be possible if those who have been putting oil on this fire would admit it may be in their best – long run – interest to see this issue less passionately discussed.
The working document also includes other recommendations to enhance the more automatic alignment of food additive provisions set by Codex Commodity Committees on food standards, together with the corresponding food categories de© Copyright 2018 Research Information Ltd. All rights reserved. ISSN 0963-4894 20 WORLD FOOD REGULATION REVIEW fined in the GSFA, and vice versa. It also suggests a scoring system to address emerging new issues, while advocating the status quo with the predominant role played by the chairs of the four key inter-session EWGs re-established at each CCFA session (i.e. on the (i) INS, (ii) Alignment, (iii) JECFA list of priorities and (iv) GSFA). More details will be provided in the next WFRR March 2018 issue.
Finally, it includes recommendations to address the presence in the international numbering systems (INS) of food additives which have never been reviewed by JECFA, or do not include draft provisions in the step process in GSFA, or both. These apparent discrepancies come predominantly from the genesis of the INS in the 1990s as a concatenation of lists of permitted food additives mainly in the EU, USA, Australia/New Zealand and Japan. It has yet to be determined to what extent those recommendations may lead to a comprehensive clean-up of the INS, i.e. the deletion those food additives never reviewed by JECFA and not yet in GSFA, and then subsequently may lead to the suppression of their permitted uses at national level, even in other countries than those at the origin of the INS. It might also result in a pledge to suppliers of these substances to take initiatives to have them reviewed – or reconsidered for review for a couple of them (e.g. paraffin) – by JECFA in the foreseeable future. Another issue may be addressed in the context of this thorough review of the INS, namely the role of a parent INS number versus sub-listed INS numbers such as (a) anthocyanins under INS 163, versus individual numberings of various botanical sources of anthocyanin extracts; (b) waxes, paraffin and petroleum oils under INS 905, etc.)
Pre-session PWG and recommendations on GSFA pending provisions already reviewed by an inter-session EWG on GSFA: the core work of CCFA to see significant outcome and progress this year
Like every year, the CCFA50 plenary will consider the recommendations for adopting, revoking, revising or further discussing GSFA provisions based on the work of the PWG on GSFA meeting on the Friday and Saturday before CCFA50. The PWG itself will review the recommendations resulting from the report of the inter-session EWG on GSFA, which included two rounds of discussions about the draft food additives provisions that CCFA49 assigned to it (see WFRR Vol. 26, Number 11, April 2017). Three main and landmark outputs (in terms of the number or importance) are expected this year:
The CCFA50 plenary is also expected to review other aspects and provisions for possible adoption into GSFA, based on matters referred by other committees. It will discuss the revised discussion paper on nitrates and nitrites (raising more questions than suggesting solutions) as well as a new discussion paper drafted by the Russian Federation. That discussion paper is expected to be intensively debated because it is aiming at introducing new and variable principles (subject to interpretation) for the use of food additives in what is defined as “plain”, “fresh”, “untreated” and “processed”, while suggesting new definitions for “unprocessed food” (raw food or fresh food), “minimally processed (plain) foods” in contrast to “ultra-processed products”. It is likely that that discussion paper will be further discussed in 2019.
Other, more classic, CCFA discussion items (Alignment, INS, JECFA, Endorsement)
The CCFA50 plenary will review the future recommendations resulting from an expected in-session working group to be created at the start of CCFA50 plenary, itself based on the recommendations in the report of the inter-session electronic working group on Alignment chaired by Australia. These recommendations will aim at finalizing the complete alignment between the food additive provisions set in many Codex Alimentarius Commodity Standards on Fish and Fishery Products and those provisions included in the corresponding food categories in the GSFA (adopted and draft). Alignment is one of the most important consistency work undertaken by CCFA to ensure that in the long run GSFA becomes the unique point of reference, including into all Codex Alimentarius Commodity/Food standards. For the moment, the dual system is a source of misinterpretation and similar discrepancies at national levels in case countries implement both those food standards and the GSFA, containing for the time being those inconsistencies.
As usual, CCFA will review the outcome of the most recent JECFA meeting on food additives held in June 2017 and consider whether any action may be necessary. It is worth noting that JECFA has re-evaluated two colours (Brilliant Blue FCF and Fast Green FCF) and reaffirmed that both additives do not raise any safety concern in terms of dietary exposure. Meanwhile, JECFA is recommending that the Group ADI for all carotenoids may be re-evaluated in the light of the information provided about a new algal source of beta-carotene.
As part of a separate agenda item, CCFA50 will also consider the various revised and new specifications that JECFA considers as completed (i.e. named “Full”) for possible adoption as Codex revised of new specifications for food additives7 (e.g. silicon dioxide, sucrose esters of fatty acids, Tamarind seed polysaccharide, etc.). CCFA will also consider temporary specifications (named “tentative”), not yet finalized regarding certain substances under JECFA review (e.g. Yeast extracts containing mannoproteins, Oenological tannins, etc.).
As usual, CCFA50 will also review recommendations from an in-session PWG for be announced at the start of the plenary to review the proposed changes to the INS laid down in the report of the inter-session EWG on the INS8 . Among other things, it may include a new functional class for (a) propylene glycol as a carrier and two corresponding technological purposes, (b) mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids, as glazing agent and surface-finishing agent, (c) gellan gum as a gelling agent and (d) DL-malic acid as a sequestrant.
At that occasion, CCFA50 in session PWG may also discuss whether it is time to distinguish the source of a food additive (such as steviol glycosides) depending on its mode of production (by physical or chemical extraction and purification, by fermentation, by production with the help of genetically modified microorganisms, by chemical reaction synthesis, etc.), in the context of the INS. Therefore, it may also trigger questions on the JECFA specifications as well. For sure, any rushed decision into this matter may create a landmark precedent which may possibly lead to revisiting and requalifying other food additives, based on its production method (e.g. tartaric acid versus oenological tannins). This may be totally impact-less at the Codex Alimentarius level given that the INS is not viewed as relevant for labelling purposes - but only allocates a unique reference number to each food additive. However, it may directly influence the way food additives are required to be labelled at national or regional level where countries are using the INS for labelling purpose and even more impactful in those countries which imposes the INS number as a mandatory labelling provision based on the latest Codex INS list. It may also fuel – unintentionally – an undesirable debate on how Codex may revisit the labelling settlement reached on food or food ingredients obtained from recombinant DNA (after nearly 15 years of negotiations). INS and Class names are published once a year as CAC/GL 36 (CXG 36). See 2017 version at http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/c odex-texts/guidelines/en/ It may also – and more likely – directly influence the way food additives are required to be labelled on marketed food’s lists of ingredients at national and/or regional level(s).
The CCFA50 will review the various specific food additive (and processing aids) provisions for endorsement that the Codex Commodity Committees and Regional Coordinating Committees found technologically justified in the vertical food standards they have developed. As per its terms of reference, CCFA50 will review those provisions and possibly endorse them, so that the food additive section of those vertical standards would not impede any future publication or adoption of those food standards. So far, only the provisions for the Near East Regional Standard on Doogh and for the CCMMP Standard on Dairy Permeate Powders (developed by correspondence) are available for endorsement.
More details on CCFA50 are available on the webpage of the session at www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/meetings/detail/ en/?meeting=CCFA&session=50
1 Food Engineer, Regulatory and Scientific Counsellor at Keller and Heckman LLP.
2 Food Law Attorney & Partner at Keller and Heckman LLP.
3 Pr Junshi Chen has been universally praised as an internationally and nationally well-known and respected expert on food additives - and more widely on food safety risk assessment and management - for decades and moreover as the Chairperson of the CCFA since 2007, when China became the host country of CCFA after the Netherlands and the split of former CCFAC into CCFA (food additives) and CCCF (contaminants).
4 The Codex GSFA is also known as CODEX STAN 192 (now CXS 192), and it is composed of a preamble, appendices, e.g. defining the hierarchic food categorizations system, and Tables 1 to 3 containing all adopted food additive provisions, as well as the list of Notes, specifying further conditions of use for such provisions.
5 With the exception of those additives provisions with technological functions of colour or sweetener, adipates, nitrites and nitrates, and the provisions related to grape wines.
6 With the exception of food additives provisions with the function of colour and sweetener.
7 For inclusion in a Codex standard called CAC/MISC 6. See the 2017 version at http://www.fao.org/fao-who-codexalimentarius/codex-texts/miscellaneous/en/. As such, CCFA does not develop its own specifications for food additives (and flavourings) but rather adopt those developed by JECFA.
8 Class Names and International Numbering System on Food Additives (including a unique number, list of functional classes and associated technological purposes)