AOCS: supporting international standards

In This Section

January 2013

  • AOCS has worked since its founding in 1909 to develop methods and standards on behalf of the oils and fats community.
  • Today’s global marketplace makes international standards critical to the smooth flow of trade.
  • International standards increase efficiency and minimize waste, expense, and unnecessary effort.

Trade standards improve efficiency of production and ease international commerce. They can also affect profitability. A case in point: One small change to the AOCS protein determination methods has maintained revenue for the soy protein ingredient and feed industries; that revenue represents more than two billion dollars since 2010.

Nicolas Deak, platform lead at Solae, the DuPont-owned soy ingredients company based in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, takes up the story.

“Solae heard in 2009 that the Chinese government had proposed a change to its regulatory standard for measuring protein content in several foods, including soy,” Deak explains. Specifically, China planned to lower the nitrogen-to-protein conversion factor used to calculate protein content in soy from the globally recognized conversion factor of 6.25 to 5.71. The proposal was based on the presence of the 5.71 conversion factor in a table appended to several AOCS protein determination methods.

In brief, the 5.71 conversion factor came from research—since disproved—that was published in 1931 and memorialized in the AOCS methods. Using the lower factor, however, results in a 9.2% reduction in the calculated protein content of soy products and a corresponding reduction in revenue for the soy ingredients and feed industries.

Deak and Solae led the effort to build an industrywide coalition within AOCS to standardize trade policy and regulations in order to maintain 6.25 as the nitrogen-to-protein conversion factor for soy. AOCS convened an expert panel under the aegis of the AOCS Uniform Methods Committee (UMC) in March 2010. The panel—with representatives from academia, government, and industry—agreed that the table should be removed from AOCS methods. The UMC reviewed the panel’s recommendation at the AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo in May 2010. A motion to remove the table was put forth and approved. In the end, China changed the conversion factor back to 6.25 for highly refined soy proteins but not for meal.

The importance of standards and methods—and laboratory proficiency—to a company’s bottom line is echoed by John Hancock, technical manager of London-based FOSFA International (Federation of Oils, Seeds and Fats Associations). “It is sometimes difficult for analytical chemists to have a feel for the impact of their results,” he noted. “For example, the oil content of seeds is an important parameter as it is often this that determines the contract price of the commodity.

“The precision data for ISO 659:2009 Oilseeds—Determination of Oil Content give a repeatability limit for sunflowerseeds of about 0.4,” Hancock continued. “Thus, the same technician with the same equipment running the same test on the same sample within a short interval of time will not get a bigger difference between two results of more than 0.4% in more than 5% of cases. But with sunflowerseeds at about $600/metric ton [in July 2012], for a consignment of 15,000 metric tons, this 0.4% is equivalent to $36,000.”

Method development and validation

The soy protein case study illustrates how AOCS members and their needs shape the organization’s work on standards and methods. Another example that traces how and why new methods are developed concerns glycidyl esters (GE) in foods.

GE are process contaminants generated during the processing of edible oils, most probably during deodorization. Many questions remain regarding their toxicity, formation, detection, and mitigation. Indirect methods developed to characterize GE and related process contaminants returned inconsistent results; clearly, a direct method was needed.

Development of a validated direct method, however, became critical once the German risk assessment agency, BfR (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung), named GE as a possible safety risk in March 2009. That was followed in September 2009 by the removal by Japan’s Kao Corp.—as a precautionary measure—of its diacylglycerol oils and related products from the market in both Japan and the United States because of the presence of GE in them.

Although glycidol (2,3-epoxy-1-propanol) is listed as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), no data exist on the metabolic fate of GE in the human gut. Therefore, IARC has classified GE as “not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans.”

It was in the midst of all these swirling questions that AOCS established an Expert Panel on Process Contaminants in December 2009. Slightly more than two years later, in May 2012, AOCS and the Japan Oil Chemists’ Society (JOCS) released the first validated direct method for GE in edible oils, AOCS/JOCS Official Method Cd 28-10. The method marked the first analytical collaboration between the two organizations.

The joint method determines glycidyl fatty acid esters in edible oils using two solid-phase extraction steps and liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry. The method was tested through two pre-studies and a full collaborative study that consisted of nine blind-duplicate samples and included participation from laboratories in Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The results were statistically analyzed according to the AOAC-IUPAC Harmonized Protocol (AOCS M 1-92 and M 4-86).

In the beginning

AOCS was created in 1909 by nine cottonseed oil analysts who recognized the need for industry standards, methods, and laboratory proficiency in support of oil trade. The first book of official methods appeared in 1928 and was small enough to fit in an oil analyst’s back pocket. The sixth edition, which was published in 2009, weighs more than 5.5 kilograms and can serve as a stand-in for weight-training equipment if need be. (This may be one reason many companies opt for an e-access subscription.)

The first AOCS method, as described in George Willhite’s history of AOCS (inform 19:307–312, 2008), was less than precise. One sentence reportedly read: “The proper amount of lye of the desired strength is then added and the mixture stirred vigorously for five minutes.”

The importance of word choice and word order in method development cannot be overemphasized, as FOSFA’s John Hancock notes: “Some chemical methods of analysis used to say, for example, ‘weigh accurately approximately 10g of the sample.’ This seems to be a contradiction and could be confusing. Thus, it was replaced with: ‘Weigh, to the nearest 0.001 g, approximately 10 g of the sample.’ This is much clearer and indicates exactly what is required.”

What began as a largely regional, one-industry effort in the United States to develop and promote oils and fats standards is now a global enterprise as AOCS participates in an alphabet soup of global, national, and regional standards-development organizations, seeking always to further the interests of its members, member companies, and constituents. Primary among the international groups are the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission .

Because AOCS has its headquarters in the United States, it also participates in US-based standard-setting organizations such as ASTM International (most notably on biodiesel standards) as well as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is the dues-paying National Member Body representing the United States within ISO. AOCS also works on harmonization of standards with the American Association of Cereal Chemists International (AACC International) and American Organization of Analytical Chemists International (AOAC International).

International standards harmonization

International standards are voluntary and are developed by consensus, which explains why development sometimes seems to proceed at glacial speed. Soliciting the views of all interested parties, including manufacturers, vendors and users, consumer groups, testing laboratories, governments, professionals, and research organizations takes time. The fact that divergent interests make compromise at worst difficult and at best slow adds to the challenge.

Participation in the development of standards—whether national or international—provides organizations with access to all versions of standards under development. Involvement also gives early warning about future industry and regulatory changes—and a chance to influence the scope and nature of those changes.


The International Organization for Standardization (ISO, from isos, or “equal,” in Greek; Geneva, Switzerland) is a network of national standards institutes (known as National Standards Bodies, or NSB) from more than 160 countries. In consultation with all stakeholders, ISO sets voluntary international standards on everything from best management practices to food safety. Around 1,000 of the current total of about 19,000 ISO standards deal with food.

The bulk of the work done by ISO is conducted by its roughly 2,700 technical committees, subcommittees, and working groups. Each technical committee and subcommittee is headed by a Secretariat from an NSB.

The NSB choose whether to be a participating, or voting, member (P-member) of a particular committee or working group or an observing member (O-member). P-members participate actively in the work and must vote on all questions submitted to vote within the committee. O-members can only observe but can make comments about documents in development. As the US member of ISO, ANSI accredits US Technical Advisory Groups (TAG). These groups develop and transmit, via ANSI, US positions on activities and ballots of the technical committees, subcommittees, and policy committees. These technical issues include the approval, reaffirmation, revision, and withdrawal of ISO standards. ISO’s Technical Committee 34 (TC 34) on Food Products sets standards for human and animal food and feed as well as animal and vegetable propagation materials. The committee handles work on standards for everything from terminology, to sampling, to methods of testing and analysis, to product specifications, and even requirements for packaging, storage, and transportation.

AOCS coordinates the work of TC 34’s US TAG, including some projects (such as Working Group 12 on the application of ISO 9001:2000 quality management systems in agriculture) not directly related to fats and oils. Even though AOCS is an international organization, because it is physically located in the United States, it must work on behalf of its members and constituents through the US TAG, counseling ANSI—based on input from participating experts—how to vote on issues related to fats and oils. AOCS members from other countries interested in standards development should work as experts with their own countries’ ISO member bodies.

It is important to note that corporate and individual membership revenue does not subsidize AOCS’ work on internationals standards. Rather, participation fees paid by the TAG participants, as well as corporate donations, cover all indirect and most direct expenses.

AOCS participation in ISO by the numbers

TC 34 has 14 subcommittees. As shown in Table 1, AOCS administers the US TAG for Subcommittee (SC) 2 (Oleaginous seeds and fruits), SC 11 (Animal and vegetable fats and oils), SC 16 (Horizontal methods for molecular biomarker analysis), and SC 17 (Food safety management systems) and most of their Working Groups (WG).

Some international and regional organizations also make active contributions to the development of ISO standards as recognized liaisons to TC, SC, and WG. As such, they can submit comments and suggest work items but cannot vote. For example, organizations operating in the liaison capacity with SC 2 (Oleaginous seeds and fruits and oilseed meals) range from standards development organizations such as AOAC International and AOCS to implementers of standards such as the World Customs Organization. Liaisons apply to participate and are accepted by vote of the P-members. In addition to coordinating the US TAG and communicating its positions to ANSI, AOCS can also represent its global membership through its liaison activities. AOCS has a liaison relationship with SC 2, SC 4, SC 11, SC 16, and SC 17, providing further outlets for AOCS members’ comments.

The ISO standards development process is beyond the scope of this article. For more on it, see the AOCS ISO/TC 34 Food Products Manual available at This page has many other standards- and methods-related resources, such as discussions on the determination of precision of analytical methods.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

The WTO deals with the rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably, and freely as possible. ISO, along with IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and ITU (International Telecommunication Union), has a “strategic partnership” with WTO. Organizations such as AOCS, which also produce methods in an open, consensus-drive manner, likewise provide standards for use by WTO.

Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC)

CAC, which was founded in 1963, is a joint project of two agencies of the United Nations: the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization. In CAC’s own words, the organization “develops harmonized international food standards, guidelines, and codes of practice to protect the health of the consumers and ensure fair trade practices in the food trade. The Commission also promotes coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and nongovernmental organizations.”

AOCS participates as an international nongovernmental and standard-developing organization in the Codex Committee on Fats and Oils (CCFO), which meets biannually. Critical to AOCS’ constituents are discussions on Named Vegetable Oils, Fish Oils and Olive Oil. AOCS also participates in the Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling (CCMAS).

The Inter-Agency Meeting (IAM)

AOCS serves as secretariat for IAM. This group organizes regular summits of international organizations working in the field of methods of analysis and sampling of food products and associated quality assurance measures prior to CCMAS meetings. There, they discuss mutual concerns and take positions on the CCMAS agenda. The group reports in the plenary sessions of CCMAS. Among the participants are AOAC International, AACC International, the European Committee for Standardization, ISO/TC 34, ISO Central Secretariat, and the International Dairy Federation. IAM also organizes an annual workshop prior to the CCMAS meeting, in tandem with the MoniQA Association. (MoniQA stands for Monitoring and Quality Assurance in the Total Food Supply Chain. MoniQA is hosted by the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology.)

Other work

AOCS also works on the standards harmonization efforts undertaken by several other organizations. These include ASTM International’s Technical Committee D02 (Petroleum Products and Lubricants) and D12 (Soaps and Other Detergents).

Richard Cantrill, AOCS chief science officer and technical director, is a member of the Food Chemicals Codex of the US Pharmacopeial Convention and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Advantages of international standards

ISO has studied the economic and social benefits of standards, and they are many. For example, in Canada, growth in the number of standards accounted for 17% of the labor productivity growth rate and about 9% of the growth rate in economic output (real gross domestic product, or GDP) over the 1981 to 2004 period. “If there had been no growth in standards in this period,” noted Roger Frost in the ISO Focus magazine, “real GDP would have been CDN 62 billion lower.”

Ray Shillito, manager, Technical Coordination, Seeds and Traits/Regulatory Science at BASF knows the advantages of participating in standard setting firsthand. Shillito currently serves as chairperson for ISO SC16. He says: “Having the right ISO standards in place is important for business as it encourages harmonized and practical policy outcomes. For example, standards for analytical methods are being developed by a broad range of experts. Involving experts from different organizations ensures that ISO standards are pragmatic and support the smooth operation of international trade in food, feed, and fiber.”

“When you think about it,” notes AOCS’ Richard Cantrill, “our members have the opportunity to directly influence the quality and safety of goods that are bought and sold around the world.”

Scientific standards are the pits

Scientific standards should be objective, but on occasion they can also be highly personal. According to, Daniel Fahrenheit, the inventor of the first modern thermometer, based his temperature scale on three reference points. An article he wrote in 1724 details his standard-setting process. He used a mixture of ice, salt, ammonium chloride, and water for the zero point, or 0°F. The melting or freezing point was set at 32°F, using a mixture of ice and water. The third point, 96°F, was set by holding the thermometer under the armpit of his wife.

Catherine Watkins is associate editor of Inform and can be reached at