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Precautionary principle left out by Codex

By Alex McNally , 30-Jul-2007

Codex has agreed to exclude the controversial precautionary principle in its risk analysis standards, marking the end of a long battle between the EU and trade groups.

The final decision was made at the Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting in Rome this month when the 'Working Principles for Risk Analysis for Food Safety for Application by Governments' was finally adopted, excluding the precautionary principle. The controversial plan would have allowed governments to take certain preventative measures for foods in cases where scientific evidence on the safety of the food is uncertain, but were seen by many governments and organisations as a tool to create unjustified trade barriers. The principle, which has already been formally established by the European Commission (EC/178/2002), granted food risk managers the ability to take measures to protect health if they feared an unacceptable level of health risk exists. These measures ranged from a total ban on the substance, to food manufacturer's being ordered to carry out further safety tests. The International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations (IADSA) and the US Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN USA) both feared the precautionary principle would create unfair trading opportunities around the globe if it was adopted. It was omitted from the set of principles for risk analysis adopted by Codex in 2003. However, since then a number of countries have tried to introduce it into Codex texts, to no avail. David Pineda, IADSA's manager of regulatory affairs, said: "Despite the numerous attempts to introduce this principle into the text, there has again been sufficient resistance from both governmental and non-governmental organisations to prevent it from happening." Pineda added that consumers were not being put at risk by the exclusion of the precautionary principle. He told this morning: "Scientific evaluations are carried out when there are justified doubts about the safety of a food product and therefore there are systems in place to protect the health of the consumers. However, the use of the precautionary principle is often abusive in cases where there is no scientific proof of the unsafety of a food product. "It is encouraging for the dietary/food supplement associations that this principle is not adopted by Codex and therefore not being applied worldwide." There have been three unsuccessful attempts by the EU and other countries to include the principle in key Codex documents. In April, the full Codex Committee of General Principles (CCGP) debated the new draft and, after rallying of both government and non-governmental organisations - notably the CRN USA - agreed to omit the precautionary principle.

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