US plays the spoiler at Codex meet

Published: Saturday 15 May 2004

At the 36th meeting of the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues (CCPR), the US delegation stalled crucial discussions on maximum residue limits (MRLs) for processed or ready-to-eat foods. It achieved this by simply not presenting its paper on the subject. The meet was held in New Delhi from April 19-24.

CCPR is responsible for establishing maximum limits for pesticide residues in food commodities. It comes under the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) -- a UN body that sets food standards for global trade. Under the meet's agenda, item 14 was listed as the 'Discussion paper on the establishment of MRLs for processed or ready-to-eat foods'. However, Hans Jeuring, chairperson of the session, informed the participants that the US team had told the committee that it had not prepared the paper. The reason for this was cited as confusion over the approach to be taken. The US had been asked to prepare the paper in CCPR's 2003 session.

Meanwhile, the European Community (EC) pointed out that this was an important subject that required further discussion. But when the EC expressed the desire to prepare a discussion paper on the issue for the 2005 CCPR, it could not muster the support of other members. The chair then asked the US to comment on the matter. Forced to respond, the US representative was guarded and merely said: "We will welcome the opportunity to work with the EC on this."

For its part, the EC circulated its comments on the matter. According to its position paper, the EC fixes MRLs for raw commodities. They are then applied to processed and composite foodstuffs corrected by the appropriate processing factors and the relative proportions of the raw materials used. "These are used for intake calculations, can also be used for enforcement purposes," reads the document.

The issue is significant for India in view of Down To Earth's pesticides in colas expos (see: 'COLANISATION'S DIRTY DOZEN', Down To Earth, August 15, 2003), which spawned a debate over standards for processed foods. Importantly, the Joint Parliamentary Committee, set up to look into the matter, has mandated the setting of the product standards for soft drinks (see: 'JPC report sets serious reform agenda', Down To Earth, February 29, 2004).

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