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Report of the 49th Session of the Codex Committee on Food Additives


John Lupien

The 49th Session of the Codex Committee on Food Additives (CCFA) was held in Macau SAR, China. The CCFA plenary session was held from 20-24 March, and was preceded by a 17-18 March working group session on the Codex General Standard for Food Additives.

For food scientists and food technologists, the CCFA is one of the most important committees of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). CCFA and Codex approval of food additive substances for general or specific uses in various food products is important to approval and acceptance in domestic and international trade of processed food products containing food additives.  Many food company buyers will not purchase food additives for use in food products unless the additives have been reviewed and accepted by CCFA and the CAC. Codex food additive provisions in the GSFA are important to developing countries that lack the technical infrastructure to carry out in-depth reviews of additives and rely on CCFA/Codex approvals to provide guidance in setting national food additive regulations. Developed countries also rely on CCFA/Codex decisions with regard to acceptance of products imported from other countries.

 Prior to consideration of a food additive by CCFA, review by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is required. JECFA prepares specifications for food additives, as well as toxicological monographs that are the basis for setting JECFA acceptable daily intake (ADI) recommendations for each substance reviewed. For additives with an ADI, the role of CCFA is to consider the use of such additives in different food products so that overall consumption of the additive in single or many food products will not exceed the ADI set by JECFA.

 JECFA can also conclude that a substance is sufficiently safe to not require an ADI, and for such substances declare the substance as “ADI not specified”. For such substances use in food products is limited by good manufacturing practices, meaning that only the amount needed to achieve a specific food additive function will be used.

The 17-18 March Physical Working Group on the General Standard for Food Additives (GSFA) was chaired by Dr. Paul Honigsfort of the US Food and Drug Administration. The session was preceded during the year between the 48th and 49th CCFA by an electronic working group on the GSFA. This electronic working group is open to all Member Countries and Codex observer organisations to enable additional  work in between the annual CCFA sessions on specific topics referred by CCFA plenary sessions.  It was also chaired by the USA and its work led to a report that was considered by the Physical Working Group.

In opening the Working Group session, the Chairman gave a brief report on past and current CCFA work and on problems CCFA faces to attain the Codex goal of making the Codex General Standard for Food Additives the single and authoritative source for Codex food additives uses and limits. Problems exist in aligning food additive provisions in the more than 300 Codex standards for various foods and the current or needed GSFA provisions. Since many Codex Commodity Committees have been adjourned, resolving differences between GSFA provisions and commodity standards has been a problem. Also, since many of the commodity standards were prepared 30 or 40 years ago, their additive provisions do not always meet current additive usages and can be questioned as to technological need and effect, and in some cases food safety aspects. Also, at present the Chairman pointed out that there are 1,823 substances under current active CCFA consideration, but each CCFA session is only able to cover about 250 substances each year, meaning that the GSFA will not reach its goal of being the single authoritative Codex source on food additives for some years to come.

Physical Working Group 17-18 March 2017

The Physical Working Group was attended by over 30 delegations from Member Countries of  the CAC and over 20 CAC observer non-governmental and international organisations. An IUFoST observer delegation attended the session, and the CCFA 20-24 March Plenary Session. Deliberations in the Physical Working Group and in the subsequent Plenary Session were similar to previous sessions. Many developed countries recognised the needs of developing countries in tropical environments to need higher levels of some additives to achieve necessary preservative or other functions, while the EU delegation quite often tried to insist that EU regulations were good for all Codex member countries. This EU position was not accepted by the rest of the delegations.

Deliberations of the Physical Working Group over two days resulted in discussion of all agenda items, and led to a report with recommendations for discussion on the GSFA in the CCFA plenary session. Items discussed included tartrates in a wide range of foods, use of talc, which was discontinued by the Working Group, a long discussion on benzoates as a preservative in drinks with the EU arguing against higher limits requested by developing countries in semi-tropical or tropical zones. The EU finally reserved its position on this matter since its insistence of EU limits for Codex was rejected. In this discussion the JECFA representative pointed out that the request of the developing countries did not lead to any use exceeding the ADI, but the EU representatives did not accept this science based decision.

Plenary session 20-24 March 2017

The 20-24 March CCFA Plenary Session was attended by delegations from 50 CAC Member Countries, the EU, and observer delegations from international and non-governmental organisations. The Session was chaired by Professor Junshi Chen of the China National Center for Food Safety and Risk Assessment (CFSA) with Dr Yongxiang Fan as vice-chair. The Session was opened by Mr Jin Xiaotao Vice-Minister of the China National Health and Family Planning Commission who welcomed the participants to China and pointed out that China has given food safety a very high priority.

The Session approved the agenda for the 49th meeting without any changes. The Session considered matters referred to CCFA from the Codex Executive Committee and discussed a paper prepared by China and the USA for consideration at the 49th CCFA Session on the better management of CCFA work. The discussions on this paper did not result in any concrete proposals for future work of CCFA. The Chairman therefore proposed that a committee be formed of the Chairpersons of CCFA and CCFA Working Groups on the GSFA, Priorities for substances for JECFA consideration, International Numbering System, and Endorsement and Alignment to prepare a more concrete set of proposals for consideration at the 50th session of CCFA. This proposal was agreed by the Committee.

FAO and WHO representatives provided information to the Session on the 82nd JECFA meeting. As a part of this agenda item new lower JECFA limits for lead in a number of additives and infant formula were reported. Additional JECFA work on carob bean gum, quinoline yellow and steviol glycosides is also underway. At the request of Codex JECFA has also examined food additives allowed in the Codex standard for infant formula and found that several approved additives did not have supporting data for use in a product for infants. CCFA will refer this information to the Codex Committee for Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Use (CCNFSDU) for appropriate action. The JECFA Secretariat informed CCFA of several new specifications for some food additives and CCFA accepted the specifications and forwarded them to the next session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission for formal adoption.

There was a discussion on secondary additives, meaning chemicals used in the production of a specific food additive. This is a topic introduced to CCFA deliberations by the EU, and is apparently designed to create further delays and confusion in the CCFA and Codex approval system for food additives. This in a way corresponds to EU interventions at CCFA that try to assure that only EU limits of additives will also be part of the Codex limits, ignoring the needs of other countries.

CCFA has been trying over several sessions to assure that provisions in the GSFA, which is supposed to be the main Codex reference for food additives, are the same as those in specific Codex food standards. Many of the Codex food standards were completed some years ago, and in many instances the Codex Committees that prepared the standards are no longer functioning. During the 49th session the CCFA agreed to alignment changes in the GSFA and commodity standards for a few Asian regional products and a number of processed vegetable and fish and seafood products. Continuing work on aligning commodity standard food additive provisions and the GSFA will be chaired and coordinated by the delegation from Australia.

There was considerable discussion on the use of additives in the production of wine, and on the responsibilities of Codex and CCFA in this area vis-à-vis the activities of the International Office of Wine (OIV). There was no consensus on immediate methods to proceed, and an electronic working group was established to prepare a paper for further consideration at the next CCFA session.

With regard to the GSFA in general, most of the GSFA Physical Working Group recommendations were approved and will be forwarded to the next CAC session for final adoption. One Working Group recommendation that did not get consensus CCFA agreement concerned the use of benzoates in water based flavored drinks. The EU blocked consensus by insisting that EU limits were needed in the GSFA, while developing and mostly tropical countries desire a higher limit for benzoates. To enable continued work on this, and other related topics, an electronic working group chaired by the USA will carry out work in the next year and its report will be considered by a Physical Working Group on the GSFA which will be held three days prior to the next CCFA session in March 2018.

Discussion of a paper prepared by the Netherlands on nitrates and nitrites did not lead to any concrete agreement on this topic. The Netherlands will chair an electronic working group that will report to the 50th CCFA session the results of its work over the next several months. 

The GSFA has an International Numbering System (INS) for all food additives included in the GSFA, and also has as a part of this system descriptions for each additive of its functional uses. The CCFA endorsed several suggestions made for changes and additions for some functional uses of additives in this system. An electronic working group was re-endorsed, chaired by Iran, to consider new proposals for the INS.

The CCFA also has an in-session working group for addition and changes to the priority list of substances proposed for evaluation by JECFA. The CCFA agreed that further work would be requested of JECFA  on carob bean gum, natamycin, and sodium sorbate. Formerly agreed listing of benzoates and cassia gum were dropped from the JECFA priority list.

The next CCFA meeting will be held in China from 26-30 March 2018.

Members of IUFoST adhering bodies are encouraged to visit the Codex website to review the CCFA report and the many appendices to the report if further information is desired.

Dr John Lupien is Adjunct Professor of Food Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA, a former Secretary of the FAO / WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission (1986-90), and a former Director of the FAO Food and Nutrition Division (1990-2000). He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Food Science and Technology (IAFoST), a former Member of the Editorial Advisory Board for The World of Food Science, and is a regular correspondent for IUFoST; E-mail:  

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Food Fraud – and the focus on prevention – is an important and evolving food industry focus. Even though the vast majority of these incidents do not have a health hazard in some ways they are more dangerous because the substances and actions are unknown and untraceable.  The types of food fraud stretch the traditional role of food science and technology to include criminology, supply chain traceability and other control systems. The food authenticity and integrity testing will be the most complex actions and their value should be assessed in terms of the contribution to prevention. This Scientific Information Bulletin (SIB) presents an introduction, review of incidents, the fundamentals of prevention which then provide insight on the optimal role of Food Science and Technology.
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Congratulations Prof. Dr. Purwiyatno Hariyadi

Congratulations to Prof. Dr. Puwiyatno Hariyadi who has been elected to the position of Vice-Chair of the  CODEX Alimentarius Commission.

Dr. Hariyadi is a Fellow of the International Academy of Food Science and Technology (IAFoST) and Senior scientist, SEAFAST Center; Professor, Dept. Food Science and Technology, Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia.

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