dispatches from codex alimentarius, geneva

Codex backs work on international standard for quinoa

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

The work was approved at the 38th CAC meeting
The work was approved at the 38th CAC meeting

Related tags Codex alimentarius Cereal

Bolivia and the US have been given the go ahead to work on an international standard for quinoa by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC).

The Commission approved the new work and agreed to reactivate the Committee on Cereals, Pulses and Legumes (CCCPL) to work by correspondence.

It agreed to establish an electronic Working Group (eWG) chaired by Bolivia and co-chaired by the US working in English and Spanish to develop the initial draft.

Development of the standard is expected to take four years, or less, depending on the degree of consensus at international level.

Fair trade practices

Bolivia said several Codex members have concerns about health and fair trade practices affecting international trade in perishable and non-perishable goods.

This can result in restrictions or prohibitions, especially when a product is not subject of an internationally respected standard.

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A view inside the conference centre

“It is necessary to develop a quinoa standard, in order to have an international standard that can be used to prevent technical barriers to international trade, and as a means of protecting the consumer health and guaranteeing fair trade,” ​said Bolivia in a project document.  

“While there is no specific national legislation on quinoa, there have been reports that the general standards for cereals or other non-quinoa products have been applied to transactions involving quinoa, and it appears that in some countries quinoa is still not clearly identified because of the lack of any international standard.”

Bolivia said it proposed the development of a processed (treated) quinoa grain Codex standard, to reflect growing international trade and added it would be of interest to producing and importing countries.

The standard is expected to establish minimum requirements for the safety and quality of quinoa grain, define categories in which the quinoa can be classified according to its size and colour, include requirements for homogeneity in package and packing methods and define information that must appear when marking and labelling the package.

The country said quinoa production, trade and consumption have expanded significantly recently due to factors ranging from a reassessment of the ethical and cultural value of a crop which is ancestral in its area of the world, to considerations of nutritional value, as it has been identified as a product that can meet growing consumer demand for healthy foods.

Quinoa production and export stats

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), world trade in quinoa rose by 135 million dollars in 2012.

A total of 82.4% of exports are from ALADI members, in particular from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands and the USA were among the countries Bolivia exported the most quinoa to in 2014.

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Codex 38th meeting in Geneva

For Peru, USA topped the list, followed by Canada, Australia and the UK, according to 2013 data.                                     

The other significant exporters are the US (9.8%) and the European Union (7.5%), although a large proportion of the sales are re-exports. 

Production has jumped from 16,204 tonnes in Bolivia in crop year 1983/4 to 61,182 tonnes in 2012/3 according to data compiled by the Unit for Production Analysis from Ministry of Rural Development and Land figures.

Quinoa is produced in Colombia, Chile, Argentina, USA and Canada and trials are underway in Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Production is also being introduced in Denmark, France, Finland, Tanzania, Morocco, China, Mongolia, New Zealand, Kenya and the Himalayas.

Quinoa’s nutritional value is determined by its high protein content, which lies between 13.81 and 21.9%, depending on the variety.

Bulgaria, China, El Salvador, UAE, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Malta, Paraguay, Singapore, Thailand, Ukraine and Venezuela were countries with no tradition of quinoa consumption, but have shown emerging demand for it.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has a general standard for grain, which includes a definition of quinoa (ISO 5526:2013 Cereals, pulses and other food grains – Nomenclature).

Quinoa is produced at an altitude between 2,500 and 4,000m above sea level, on arid and semiarid land. It is highly resistant to harsh climactic and atmospheric conditions, tolerating temperatures of -4 to -8 ºC during the flowering period and -10 ºC while the grains are in the milk stage. 

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