Ginseng Decision at Codex Alimentarius a Landmark for Asia’s Food Industry

The recent decision by the Codex Alimentarius Commission to adopt Korea’s standard on ginseng products is a groundbreaking occasion for standard setting in Asia. The decision to categorise ginseng as food, and not medicine, opens up opportunities for Asian food businesses to develop local food standards in line with international standards.

At last week’s 38th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, representatives from 185 countries and the European Union met to discuss and adopt a range of new food safety and quality standards. The new standards adopted spanned from food safety to health & nutrition, including: enabling foods containing ginseng to be recognised as a food product; risk-based guidelines for the control of Trichinella parasite in pork; adopting a reference value in nutrition labelling for a recommended daily intake of potassium; recommended maximum levels of lead in fruit, juices and canned foods; and standards for the maximum use levels of specific food additives in a variety of foods from fish to coffee.

“Each of these recommendations has been borne from deep scientific research, and extensive tri-sector consultation, with the ultimate intent of supporting the mission of Codex to provide international standards that ensure the safety, quality, and fairness of the international food trade so consumers everywhere can trust the food supply,” said Kim Keat Ng, Deputy Chair of the FIA Science and Technical Committee.

In response to the ginseng decision, The Korea Times quoted the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs as saying, "Codex’s decision will be a turning point for Korea's ginseng industry because it will significantly boost its shipments abroad”. The Ministry official further added that they expect to see positive changes for Korea’s ginseng export, “Ginseng exports have remained in a slump over the past few years. But Codex's decision will encourage many countries, which have never imported ginseng from Korea, to recognize it as a food item and make it easier for local firms to export ginseng to these countries".

Dr. Siti Abdul Malek, Head of Science and Regulatory Affairs for Food Industry Asia (FIA), who is also a member of the National Codex Working Committee for Malaysia said, “Asia is still facing challenges in standard setting, even on something as basic as nutrition labelling.

“While great progress has been made to align our regional food standards to meet international guidelines set by Codex, a lot of work still remains. We need a strong regional push on key food standard issues that are specifically relevant to Asia.

“One area in particular that would benefit both businesses and consumers in Asia is the harmonisation of nutrition labelling.

Currently, variations in country-by-country standards are causing increasing confusion; some standards are not aligned with international standards and this adds both cost and complexity for food and beverage companies, which could be easily avoided by harmonised standards or by Mutual Recognition.” she concluded.

At a time when consumers are increasingly conscious of what they eat, the importance of accurate and harmonised nutrition labelling is key. This is especially true in Asia, highlighted in a recent survey by the German natural colourings manufacturer, GNT, which found Asian consumers (84%) are more likely to examine food labels than their US and European (53%) counterparts.

FIA supports best practice in nutrition labelling, and promotes voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labelling in its industry toolkit.

The United Nations food standards body Codex Alimentarius Commission met in Geneva from 6 to 11 July 2015. Charged with protecting consumer health and ensuring fair practices in the food trade, the Codex Alimentarius is a joint initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

For more information on the upcoming Codex session, visit the links listed at right.

FIA issues regular e-bulletins with analysis on relevant food and beverage industry issues across the region. To subscribe to this service, please click here