CODEX Meets In Melaka

The CCFO met in Melaka, Malaysia, from 9-13 February, at the invitation of the Malaysian government which currently holds the secretariat of the committee. There were some new aspects to this meeting. Firstly, there were two physical meetings of the electronic working groups which had been formed at the previous meeting to prepare papers to facilitate the discussion of these topics within the plenary sessions. Secondly, all the trade associations which have observer status at CCFO were invited to submit a report on the topics that were of interest to them. This was a useful exercise as it allowed the trade to briefly describe the issues of concern to them. This was appreciated by the many delegates, most of whom are government administrators and often do not have any contact with the oils and fats trade and industry.

An eWG was set up at the last meeting of CCFO and the physical meeting took place before the opening of the plenary session in Melaka. Following introductions, the EU delegate proposed that the EU list of acceptable previous cargoes should form the majority basis for the Codex list. This proposal was to be expected as the EU had spent a substantial amount of money commissioning the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to examine all the previous cargoes that were on the Codex original list. However, this proposal was not accepted by the members of the committee who proceeded to discuss each individual material or group of materials on the list. Due to the small quantities of some substances which are transported internationally, there was much discussion on the minimum volume which should be considered as bulk. The meeting finally agreed that 25 tonnes should be considered as the minimum quantity, equivalent to the content of a road tanker.

The subject of flavours was raised at the meeting by the US delegation. Flavours were previously not accepted by the USA even though they had been evaluated by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) since it had assessed their risk in use as flavours rather than potential residues in bulk oil cargoes. However, at this meeting, the United States delegation proposed that they should be moved to the acceptable list if they had been approved as flavouring compounds. Similarly, the fatty acids from naturally occurring oils and fats were also considered to be suitable for addition to the acceptable previous cargo list. There was some discussion on proposals by various interested parties. For example, the Norwegian delegation proposed to provide new data on calcium lignosulphonate, a substance which is carried in large quantities for use as a fertiliser. This material had not been approved by EFSA as it felt that the specification had not been specific enough to agree that everything being carried as calcium lignosulphonate was suitable for the acceptable list. Similarly, FOSFA proposed the inclusion of ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE) which is also shipped in large quantities as the replacement for MTBE in fuels. On the other hand, Canada had concerns about the acceptability of all grades of white mineral oils. In summary, the physical working group confirmed many of the substances on the acceptable list, leaving just a few for further discussions or consideration by the plenary meeting.

At the full meeting, there was further general discussion on previous cargoes and it was finally agreed that 94 substances could be considered as acceptable. There was also discussion on the few extra items mentioned above and eventually, 23 substances were agreed and prioritised be put forward to JECFA for its opinion. The committee also agreed on a procedure which would allow substances to be added or removed from the list in the light of further data which may become available.

The second physical working group discussed the progress which had been made on the development of the Proposed Draft Standard for Fish Oils. At the plenary meeting, the delegation of Switzerland, which chaired this eWG, reported that agreement had been reached on many parts of the standard. Even so, the full committee considered the revised standard on a section by section basis. These included discussions on named fish oils and their characteristic data, the required quality parameters, the allowed food additives and any possible contaminants. Discussion on these aspects was influenced by the national interests of the various producers and the need to include local varieties. Nevertheless, progress was made and it was agreed to forward the proposed draft standard to the commission for adoption at Stage 5.

There have been many discussions within CCFO on the properties of non-Mediterranean basin olive oil. These discussions have been dominated by the EU and the International Olive Council and their member countries. There is no doubt that the EU is the most important producer and consumer of olive and it has vigorously specified the properties of olive to prevent fraud. However, these specifications have prevented the minor producers such as Argentina, Australia and the USA from selling their ‘non-standard’ olive oil as olive oil. As in other years, there were several negotiating meetings held outside the main session and, yet again, the EU maintained its intractable position. Following a difficult round of wordsmithing, which later seemed far removed from the real world of selling fresh good quality olive oil to the consumer, the scope of the new work was agreed, and the eWG will be chaired by Argentina and co-chaired by Australia and Italy. Although reconciliation seems unlikely, at least the major participants will be exchanging views on possible solutions.

Almost the final item on the agenda was a proposal from FOSFA to revise the Code of Practice so that it matched more closely the international trade. Currently, the trade need not consider substances which are not on either the acceptable or banned lists as it trades on either acceptable list terms or banned list terms. The Codex code states that these medium risk substances may be used only if they are approved by the importing country. Unfortunately, this proposal did not receive enough support from members to be further investigated but, fortunately, nobody trades on Codex code terms. This may cause problems to international trade if companies or countries do decide to take this approach.

To summarise, progress was made during this meeting on several fronts which could benefit the industry. The few contentious substances in the acceptable list were prioritised and submitted to JECFA which may, in turn, lead to an internationally agreed list, a simplification which would help the shipping of oils and fats. A few options which would enable smaller producers to benefit from particular plant traits were added to the project list and, finally, discussions on solving the olive oil specification conundrum were revived.

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Association for international trading in oils, fats and oilseeds