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UN Commission Sets New Food Standards

Representatives attending the annual meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission have adopted several international food standards aimed at protecting global health, including maximum levels of melamine for powdered infant formula and foods. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization jointly created the food safety commission.

A worldwide scandal erupted two years ago, when an industrial substance called Melamine was added to infant formula food in China. This tainted milk product killed at least six children, caused 860 babies to be hospitalized and sickened an estimated 300,000.

In an effort to avert a similar catastrophe, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has set a maximum level of one milligram of melamine per kilogram of infant formula and 2.5 milligrams in a kilo of other food and animal feed.

World Health Organization food chemical expert, Angelika Tritscher, says these levels only apply to the non-intentional and unavoidable presence of melamine found in food and feed. She says the new standard is not a license for people to add the substance to infant formula or other food.

"Intentional addition of melamine to food to falsify protein content is by no means acceptable at any level," said Tritscher. "And, that is what this Codex standard actually tried to differentiate. So, intentional addition for economic benefits to cheat the consumer is just plain not acceptable."

The World Health Organization reports about one-third of the total global population gets sick from contaminated food.

WHO Director of Food Safety and Zoonoses department, Jorgen Schlundt says data is scanty and the exact burden of disease related to food is unknown. But, he says, hundreds of millions of people get sick from contaminated food and many of them die.

He notes diarrhea alone kills about two million children under age five every year. And, this is why Codex guidelines for the hygienic production of food are so important.

He notes the commission has just adopted new hygienic measures for safer fresh salads and seafood.

"In relation to salads, fresh salads, the issue is often that you can have contamination because you can have contaminated water that you put onto the fields," said Schlundt. "It can be contaminated with everything from human feces to other types of contamination including animal feces. So, the issue is to make sure at the farm that you are doing the right thing. And, these guidelines are defining how you should do this type of production in a hygienic way."

Schlundt says the situation with seafood, especially raw oysters, is different. He says oysters filter out some of the bacteria in water and this gets into the gut of people who then become sick.

He says the Codex guidelines define how to monitor the manner in which oysters are harvested and how they are kept before being consumed. He says the guidelines define how to safely prepare and produce foods, thereby lowering the risk of contamination from bad microorganisms.