The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization have agreed that new guidelines are needed for the production, processing, labelling and marketing of organic foods to protect consumers from being misled.
The move has taken six years of deliberation and was finally adopted at a recent meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission in Rome. While the international guidelines will not be binding, they can be used to harmonise national policies on organic produce.
Currently, variations in national policy on organic foods means that foods which are considered organic in one country may not qualify in another. The new regulations define organic agriculture as a "holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agroecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. . . This is accomplished by using, where possible, cultural, biological and mechanical methods as opposed to using synthetic materials to fulfil any specific function within the system."
A code of practice for the feeding of livestock has yet to emerge, but in light of the Belgian dioxin crisis, the Codex commission has set up a task force to hasten the deliberation process (Lancet, 1999; 354: 314).