Issues under discussion at Codex

Below are a list of issues currently under discussion at Codex that are relevant to the Australian Seafood Industry. SafeFish welcomes any technical advice, comments or input around these issues. A comprehensive report that contains more detailed information on these issues is compiled by SafeFish every quarter, to access the most recent report please click here.

  • Histamine -Update on control guidance and harmonisation of commodity standards
  • Methylmercury - Consideration for additional MLs for fish species other than those currently set for Tuna, Alfonso, Marlin and Shark
  • Ciguatoxins -Update of the outcomes from the Ad-Hoc FAO/WHO expert meeting on Ciguatera
  • Dioxins - EFSA lowering the tolerable weekly intake
  • Fish Oils - Conformity around named fish oils
  • Food Fraud - EWG on Food Fraud (relating to food safety and fair practices)
  • SPS Notifications - Thailand and Macau


Histamine– Update on sampling plans and harmonisation of Histamine control guidance

The Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) is in the final stages of modifying the Code of Practice for Fish and Fishery Products. These modifications aim to harmonise the histamine control guidance with the Code of Practice for Fish and Fishery Products. Dr Stephen Pahl participated in an electronic working group and in November 2018 CCFH agreed with the recommendation from the eWG that the histamine control guidance should be located directly after Section 9 in the Code of Practice for Fish and Fishery Products. In addition, during the CCFH meeting the committee agreed to postpone the development of histamine sampling plan as many delegations expressed differing views. The development of sampling plans will likely be reviewed in a few years’ time when more date is available and the Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling (CCMAS) may have revised the General Guidelines on Sampling. The implications are that:

  • The current Codex health-based safety limit for histamine of 200 mg/kg in any sample tested will remain (400 mg/kg for fish sauce).
  • The current Codex histamine decomposition (quality) limit of 100 mg/kg based on the average (mean) of sample units tested will also remain

The modifications to the Code of Practice with respect to histamine and histamine control are expected to be adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in July 2019.


Methylmercury–Sampling plans and maximum levels in other species

Following the recent Codex adoption of maximum levels (MLs) for methylmercury in tunas, alfonsino, marlin and shark, the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Food (CCCF) established an electronic working group that prepared a discussion paper on the establishment of MLs for methylmercury in additional fish species. This discussion paper will be tabled at the upcoming CCCF meeting. The discussion paper identifies the fish species for which MLs for methylmercury could be established and a suggested timeframe.

During this process SafeFish contacted relevant national, state and sector-level executive officers or representatives of the impending changes and made several submissions to Codex Australia. In these submissions SafeFish continued to advocate that if MLs are set, then these should be based on a risk-benefit approach. SafeFish was also highly critical of an initial proposal that proposed MLs for methylmercury to be based on total mercury levels (often derived from a small number of data points with no consideration to the geographical distribution of the fishery or how consumption of the individual fish species would actually contribute to dietary exposure.


Ciguatoxins –Ad-Hoc FAO/WHO expert meeting

On 19-23 November 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) held an expert meeting to develop scientific advice in response to a request from the 11th Session of the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods (CCCF11). In particular, the requested scientific advice to FAO/WHO entailed a full evaluation of known ciguatoxins (toxicological assessment and exposure assessment), including geographic distribution and rate of illness; congeners; methods of detection; and based on this, guidance for the development of risk management options. The FAO/WHO is aiming to release the meeting report by June 2019.


Dioxins - EFSA lowers the tolerable weekly intake

In November 2018 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a press release that confirmed the conclusion of previous assessments that dietary exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs – environmental pollutants present at low levels in food and feed – is a health concern. EFSA’s Expert Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) has completed the Authority’s first comprehensive review of the risks to human and animal health from these substances in food and feed. The Panel has set a new tolerable weekly intake [TWI] for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in food of 2 picograms per kilogram of body weight.

SafeFish informed representatives from Tuna Australia and Australian Southern Bluefin Tuna Industry Association of the developments. Whilst the new EFSA TWI is seven-times lower than the previous EU tolerable intake, no changes to maximum levels have been proposed.


Fish Oils – CCFO26 report on conformity around named fish oils

In August 2017 the Codex Committee on Fats and Oils (CCFO) invited comments regarding any monitoring of the Standard for Fish Oils (Codex Stan 329-2017) with respect to the conformity of named fish oils with the requirements (especially the fatty acid profile), and its effect on trade. In August 2017 SafeFish informed TSGA and NuMega of the call for information.

SafeFish maintained a watching brief of discussions at CCFO. At the 26th Session of CCFO no significant trade problems had been reported. However Chile highlighted that the monitoring period was too short and that fatty acid profiles alone are not adequate for confirmation of authenticity and needs to be accompanied with product tracing/traceability data. CCFO agreed that no further monitoring of the implementation of the Standard for Fish Oils was needed.


Food Fraud - Now on the Codex agenda

The Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS) have established a EWG to further consider the role of CCFICS with respect to tackling the challenge of food fraud in the context of food safety and fair practices in the food trade. Alexandra McLaren (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources) will be leading the Australian position on the Food Fraud EWG. SafeFish will maintain a watching brief and may input into the development of Australia’s position.


SPS Notifications

Thailand - New Maximum levels for various metal contaminants

In February 2019 Thailand issued a SPS notification (THA263) that included their intention to change the MLs for cadmium, lead and methylmercury in fish and fishery products. No date has been set for the proposed adoption or enforcement.

Macau - Maximum levels for sulphites in fish and fish products

On 20 March 2019, Macau issued a SPS notification (MAC24) that revised the MLs of food additives. Changes came into effect on 05 March 2019. Macau’s Standard for Uses of Preservatives and Antioxidants in Foodstuff includes MLs for sulphites in fish and fish products.An extract from an unofficial translation of the sulphites can be found in the full SafeFIsh codex update for the quarter above.