If You Like Soy Milk And Tofu...

...You will be glad to hear that there will be a new international standard for these "non-fermented" soybean foods, agreed today in Tokyo by the Codex Alimentarius, at the 19th CC Asia meeting held this week. Final words on Friday, then the text will be sent to the global food standards body that will put it in the rules books sometime next year. Important both for protecting consumers from fraudulent products and for companies that want to make the stuff.

Of course, we want such products to be supplied in a pure form, without unnecessary chemicals!

It's like watching paint dry, but the past couple of years provided results. For example, "plain" soy milk will not be allowed to contain any artificial food additives or colourings at all. That's progress as some countries initially tried to water down the standard and delayed the work. Also today, Indonesia almost put a spanner in the works for tofu, by insisting that turmeric or annatto, i e yellow colours, should be allowed. Their rationale, opposed by everyone else, was that in the past, Indonesia made soy bean curd this way, because such substances could help preserve the product, and consumers have gotten used to "yellow tofu" and even though the country now has refrigeration to better preserve the stuff, so turmeric is no longer necessary, they still want to continue its use... Well, you get the general picture. Debates like this between government officials are all part and parcel of the Codex system. The solution, this time? Allow Indonesia to do what it wants, but other countries may keep their ban on all such substances. Unless that caveat is clearly stated in the text, it could become a trade barrier under the WTO.

So, keep tofu pure.

The text that the 25-plus Asian countries agreed on also contains an interesting labelling provision: if genetically soybeans are used, the soy milk or tofu should carry a label with that information, if countries have such labelling laws. Again, it is important to get agreement on such matters to avoid trade wars.

Other work this week includes a new text that is supposed to provide hygiene guidance for street food vendors, and proposals from Korea about some of their traditional foods. "Laver" or nori may get a standard, but my guess is it will take a major effort. Japan also wants a standard for natto.

Officials from WHO and FAO are in town, and gave many insights into how the world's food system is evolving. On Friday, by the way, Japan's government will have to try to explain how it has dealt with the radioactive contamination of food since March 11, 2011. Many countries still ban foods from Fukushima and the neighbouring prefectures.

As usual, you can learn a lot during these meetings, but I also suffered from all that sitting in uncomfortable chairs in a stuffy meeting room with an interpretation headphone hanging on my ear.

Still, glad to be able to report that this particular little piece of the larger puzzle went the right way, this time.

On the other hand...

...You may be justified in wondering why a totally obscure body of government officials are making rules about foods that... you like. 

Codex website here

Photo from the 18th CC Asia meeting in 2012.


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