The Codex Alimentarius Commission announced last week that tighter restrictions should be placed on the amount of lead in baby formula, as well as the amount of arsenic in rice.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an organization managed by both the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the Commission, baby formula should contain no more than 0.01 mg/kg of lead and rice no more than 0.2 mg/kg of arsenic.

Codex helps to set safety standards and nutritional guidelines for food consumers and suppliers throughout the world. The Commission’s annual meeting featured representatives from 170 countries, the European Union and 30 international governmental and non-governmental bodies.

According to a 2010 WHO report, childhood lead poisoning is a common and well-understood childhood disease. With an environmental origin, a child’s exposure to lead can originate from petrol, the mining industry, lead-based paints, soil, drinking water and different forms of waste.

The report states that extensive lead exposure can result in nervous system and brain damage and even death. Acute symptomatic lead poisoning is common today in developing countries where children inhabit areas prone to lead poisoning.

While lead is a naturally-occurring chemical, it often ends up in baby formula due to the nature of the formula’s production.

Additionally, high levels of prolonged exposure to arsenic can result in cancer, skin lesions, developmental problems, heart disease and diabetes. Arsenic that is ingested can cause nervous system and brain problems.

Like lead, arsenic is a naturally-occurring chemical found in groundwater and soil. It is arguably most dangerous in parts of Asia where rice paddy fields often utilize arsenic-rich groundwater. Crop farming in raised beds rather than arsenic-tainted fields diminishes the danger of the chemical affecting agriculture.

In addition, Codex suggested that some veterinary drugs be outlawed in farm animals as a means to prevent the drugs from affecting consumable foods, including meat, milk, eggs or honey. The participating countries called for new limits on pesticide residues and additives in foods, limits on toxins and other contaminants and new safety and quality measures for certain foods.

As the Commission and the developed world seek to create a safer and more inhabitable society, tighter restrictions on consumable products may continue to play an important role in shaping the need for more reliable food standards.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: allAfrica, Nutrition Insight, World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Photo: Wikipedia