UN commission adopts safety guidelines for vitamin and food supplements

11 July 2005 – Labelling to stop consumers overdosing on vitamin and mineral food supplements and guidelines to minimize the emergence of potentially deadly drug-resistant microbes were among some 20 new and amended standards announced today by a United Nations commission that is the highest international body on food standards.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said in a joint release that the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), a subsidiary of both agencies, adopted the recommendations at the end of a weeklong meeting in Rome attended by delegates from 120 countries.

The CAC adopted global guidelines for vitamin and mineral food supplements, calling for labelling that contains information on maximum consumption levels of vitamin and mineral food supplements. These labels will assist countries to increase consumer information, which will help consumers use them in a safe and effective way.

According to WHO, the guidelines ensure that consumers receive beneficial health effects from vitamins and minerals. The guidelines say people should be encouraged to select a balanced diet to get the sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals. Only in cases where food does not provide sufficient vitamins and minerals should supplements be used.

The CAC also tentatively agreed to a task force to address antimicrobial resistance, with a formal decision set for next year. WHO, FAO and the inter-governmental World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) have all drafted guidelines for prudent use of antimicrobials in treatment of human illnesses and animal production.

But agreement has been difficult as it involves collaboration from different sectors: animal health and production, human health and drug manufacturing. The new task force will bring all these sectors together and develop a holistic approach to this growing problem.

Resistance to antimicrobial drugs such as antibiotics, is an emerging public heath problem caused by a number of factors, including inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans, and antibiotic treatment of sick animals used for human consumption and, in some cases, to promote faster growth. Use of antimicrobials as pesticides is also a factor.

Resistant microorganisms developed in animals used for human consumption may be transmitted to humans mainly by contaminated food. For example, resistant strains of salmonella and other food-borne microorganisms are now frequently encountered, limiting the effective treatment of human infections, which in some cases can result in death.

The CAC has 172 members, all of which are members of FAO or WHO or both.

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