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UN Adopts New Food Safety Rules

The World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization have adopted new food safety standards they say will go a long way toward protecting consumers from disease-causing organisms.

The World Health Organization says millions of people die or get seriously ill from contaminated food every year. The Head of WHO's Food Safety Division, Jorgen Schlundt, says consumers in developed and developing countries are both affected.

"Many times, we have this misperception that all the food produced in developed countries is very safe, and it is very unsafe in developing countries," he said. "This is actually not the case. We have a number of examples where foods produced in developed countries can be more dangerous than food produced in developing countries."

For example, Dr. Schlundt says, more dioxins are emitted into the environment by industries located in developed countries. He says these substances, which are highly toxic and can cause cancer, can contaminate food and animal feed.

At a meeting of a joint WHO-FAO commission that sets food safety standards, participants adopted a new code of practice for reducing dioxins and dioxin-like PCB contamination in food and animal feed.

The delegates also set maximum limits for lead in fish and cadmium in rice. Lead can cause a wide range of disorders, including anemia, and cadmium can cause kidney damage. Measures were also adopted to reduce the risk of aflatoxin contamination of Brazil nuts. Aflatoxin can cause liver cancer.

Although countries are not obligated to comply with the new recommendations in the codex, Dr. Schlundt says implementing them will not only benefit people's health, but also trade.

"If a developing country takes some of these Codex rules or recommendations and puts them in force into their own legislation, they will help their own consumers having a better health, and they will help their export capacity to export to other countries," he said.

The Codex standards form the basis of food legislation in many countries.