Codex Committee makes progress in elaborating international standards for foods for infants and small children

After a week of intensive work the 24th meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Committee on "Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses" at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) came to a close on 8 November 2002. More than 220 government representatives, observers and experts from 55 Member States and 28 international organisations attended the Committee meeting. The meeting was opened by the undersecretary of the Federal Ministry for Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture, Alexander Müller. In his opening speech he stressed that consumer health protection had to have absolute priority over economic interests. In this context, Müller stressed the growing importance of the work of Codex Alimentarius in a globalised world.

The main theme at this meeting was foods for infants and young children. The best food for babies - and on this all the participants agreed - was breast milk, in the beginning as the sole food and from the age of six months onwards in combination with suitably composed complementary food. However, if it is not possible for a mother to breastfeed her baby, she must be able to rely on the fact that the breast milk substitutes meet her baby's needs and are safe. One important objective of the Codex Committee on "Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses" is to guarantee this everywhere in the world.

The complementary food, to supplement breast milk or the breast milk substitute, infant formula from the age of six months onwards, must be adapted to the nutrient needs and the eating ability of the older baby. Internal working groups of the Committee have elaborated proposals for the composition of these products which are oriented towards the latest findings on energy and nutrient requirements.

Keeping the use of additives in infant formula and processed cereal-based foods for infants and small children to the necessary minimum was another important consensus reached at the meeting. The participants all supported the view that colouring and sweetening agents have no place in foods for infants. Although the work on the composition of these products was not concluded, considerable progress was made.

Hunger and food shortages in large areas of the world are set against a surplus of food in other countries. Food scandals are attracting increasing attention to food. In this delicate area, scientifically backed international standards and guidelines for the manufacture and marketing of "safe" foods are of particular importance. This is the only way of guaranteeing that products comply with the principles of international consumer health protection.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has set itself the task of elaborating standards and guidelines that satisfy this requirement. They are drawn up in accordance with an eight-stage procedure and are highly rated in the dispute settlement proceedings of the World Trade Order (WTO). The elaboration of a global Codex standard must be decided by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Draft standards are passed on to all members of the Commission and interested international organisations at each stage for examination and amendment. Only after approval of the 8th stage, is a Codex standard published. Standards contain detailed provisions for composition and/or labelling. Guidelines, by contrast, stipulate what procedures must be followed in order to draw up regulations on the national level.

The final report of the 24th meeting can be accessed on the homepage of the Codex Alimentarius Commission on On the homepage of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (, you will find extensive background information under "International/Codex" about the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses as well as the report of the 23rd meeting of the Committee in German.

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