A Codex committee has recommended new maximum levels (MLs) for cadmium in chocolate.

The levels set for cadmium are 0.3 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) for chocolate containing up to 30 percent cocoa total solids and 0.7mg/kg for the 30 percent to 50 percent category.

The European Union, Norway and Egypt did not agree with the 0.3 mg/kg levels put forward and these three nations plus Switzerland didn’t back the 0.7mg/kg levels.

Instead of 0.3 mg/kg the three countries wanted a level of 0.1 mg/kg. In the other category, a lower ML of 0.3 mg/kg was proposed as protecting consumers, especially children. Supporters of the set levels said they would protect public health while promoting trade and discussions had been ongoing since 2013.

Stricter EU rules
The EU’s maximum permitted cadmium levels are 0.1 mg/kg for milk chocolate with less than 30 percent cocoa total solids and 0.3 mg/kg for chocolate in the 30 percent to 50 percent bracket. Colombia; Côte d’Ivoire; Ecuador; Madagascar and Peru first raised concerns about these limits in 2017 at a World Trade Organization meeting.

A Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) exposure assessment of cadmium in all food sources found the heavy metal in cocoa is not a significant source of exposure in the human diet globally. However, for children from mainly European countries that eat only cocoa sources from South America, these products do pose a more significant source of exposure to cadmium.

The decision on maximum levels for cocoa powder containing 100 percent total cocoa solids was delayed for a year to get more data. Work is continuing on a code of practice for the prevention and reduction of cadmium in cocoa beans.

The Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food proposals will be discussed at the Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting in November this year.

“The Codex adoption of maximum levels for cadmium in chocolate products is a positive step forward for common global standards, based on expert scientific risk assessment and global data from producing regions. A single standard means simplicity for global compliance, enabling international trade. Moreover, basing standards on global data helps avoid unnecessary food waste,” said Martin Slayne, from the International Confectionery Association, a Codex observer.

Methylmercury and lead-related discussion
Participants at the virtual meeting supported establishment of maximum lead limits for dried spices and culinary herbs but discussions were postponed for a year to allow for more data. Work on limits for eggs, cereal-based food for infants and ready-to-eat meals is also ongoing.

The committee agreed not to set a maximum limit for lead in herbal teas for infants and young children, yogurt, cheese and milk-based products. It also backed a revised code of practice to reduce lead in foods for adoption at the November Codex meeting.

Lauren Robin, from the U.S. delegation, said the code of practice was an important accomplishment.

“The code will help governments and industry follow best practices and supports work on lead MLs. It includes new information on topics like filtration aids for beverages and keeping farms safe from lead,” she said.

There was agreement to start new work on maximum levels for methylmercury in orange roughy and pink cusk eel. Further data was needed on Patagonian toothfish while experts are also looking at developing guidance to manage methylmercury in fish.

Mycotoxin and other issues
Discussions from 400 delegates continued on maximum levels for total aflatoxins in cereals and cereal-based products including foods for infants and young children. Proposals on limits for total aflatoxins in ready-to-eat peanuts will be considered by the committee in 2022.

Work on a code of practice to prevent and reduce mycotoxin contamination in cassava and cassava-based products will start if approved by the Codex meeting in November. Discussions on creating limits for Hydrocyanic cyanide in cassava and cassava-based products were halted until more data is available.

Other areas mentioned during the five-day meeting included a discussion paper on pyrrolizidine alkaloids, possible follow-up work on ciguatera poisoning and tropane alkaloids, and seeking advice from the Codex Alimentarius Commission on how to address the safety of edible insects.

Steve Wearne, vice chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, said the lack of adequate food safety control causes millions of foodborne illnesses and thousands of deaths per year.

“Although attention is often captured by acute illness caused by foodborne pathogens, the often chronic illness caused by contaminants in food is no less real. It remains vital that we focus on the development and dissemination of Codex standards which ensure the safety and quality of food for everyone, everywhere,” he said.

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