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UN Body Unveils New Food Safety Standards

The United Nations body responsible for setting food safety standards has adopted guidelines to protect consumers worldwide, including setting out maximum levels of lead in infant formula and arsenic in rice.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that no more than 0.01 mg per kg of lead should be permitted in infant formula and no more than 0.2 mg per kg of arsenic should be permitted in rice.

The decision comes from the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the UN food safety standards body jointly run by FAO and WHO, which sets standards to promote safer and more nutritious food for customers worldwide.

Codex standards serve in many cases as a basis for national legislation, and provide the food safety benchmarks for international food trade.

The Commission's annual meeting this week was attended by representatives from 170 countries and the European Union, as well as 30 international governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead, suffering profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly to the brain and nervous system. Lead levels in in infant formula can be controlled and monitored by sourcing raw materials from areas where the metal is less present.

Rice, a major staple food for millions of people, absorbs arsenic more than other crops. This is particularly concerning in Asian countries, where paddy fields are irrigated with groundwater containing arsenic-rich sediments pumped from shallow tube wells.

Improved irrigation and agricultural practices can help reduce arsenic contamination. Another method is to grow crops in raised beds instead of flooded fields.

On veterinary drugs, the Commission recommended that their use should be restricted in food-producing animals in order to prevent residual amounts of the drugs remaining in meat, milk, eggs or honey.

by RTT Staff Writer

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