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Bureaucrats of Brussels swallow up 72 words to define 'food'

Tue 8 Mar 2005


IN THE world of Brussels bureaucrats, precision is everything. That is why, when asked to produce a definition of the word "food", it took them no fewer than 72 words.

That compares with only 18 in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which says food is: "What one takes into the system to maintain life and growth, and to supply waste; aliment, nourishment, victuals."

Brussels has expanded on that, describing food as: "Any substance, whether processed, semi-processed or unprocessed, which is intended to be, or reasonably expected to be, in whole or in part, ingested by humans, and includes drink, chewing gum and any substance including water which has been used in manufacture, preparation or treatment but does not include feed and feed ingredients, live animals, plants prior to harvesting, cosmetics, tobacco or substances such as drugs, narcotic or psychotropic substances, residues and contaminants."

The hope is that this will help clarify the meaning of the word for CODEX, the joint food standards organisation run by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.

It had asked for help as it revised its Code of Ethics for International Trade in Food - its existing definition runs to more than 40 words.

It said the definition of food should be "as wide as possible to cover most situations". It goes on: "To ensure the protection of consumers it is important to maintain the explicit reference to chewing gum in the text of the definition as it should be considered as food even if a part only of chewing gum is actually ingested by the consumer."

The call for a new definition went to governments and international bodies, and suggestions, including the long-winded Brussels option, will be considered by CODEX next month.

• For a more succinct definition, there is always the 1610 description from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. With commendable brevity, it says food is: "What one eats, as opposed to ‘drink’."

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