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INTERNATIONAL EVENTS

Codex Alimentarius Commission ready to adopt new stds in 41st session
Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
The Codex Alimentarius Commission, led by chairperson Guilherme da Costa, has geared up to adopt new standards at its 41st session this week, and was reminded that the Codex standards were central to the global agenda for sustainable development. 

Transformational opportunities was the overarching theme of the opening ceremony of the session, which took place recently. The body is responsible for all matters regarding the implementation of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Food Standards Programme.

“One of the greatest challenges the world faces is how to ensure that a growing global population has enough safe food,” said Maria Helena Semedo, deputy director general, FAO, encouraging delegates to look far into the future when setting international standards that ensure safe food and fair practices in the food trade.

“Food safety is a critical enabler for market access, which promotes economic development and alleviates poverty,” she added.

Underscoring the multi-faceted benefits of Codex standards, Soumya Swaminathan, deputy director general, WHO, said, “Setting international standards for food safety and for nutrition, based on the recommendations informed by scientific evidence, is critical to improving the food systems and environment and promote consumption of safe and healthy diets.”

She reminded members and observers that Codex - one of the few platforms that nurtures dialogue among governmental regulators and non-State actors, including industry and civil society - contributed to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Codex might just be one of the finest, if not the finest, institution created by our global governments,” said Ted McKinney, US under secretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, who also delivered opening remarks.

“The pillars on which it is based, its raison d’être is to protect health and promote food safety based on science,” he added.

Calling for more focus on the linkages and synergies between agricultural production and trade with the sustainable use and consumption of natural resources, Olga Algayerova, UN under secretary general and executive secretary, UN Economic Commission for Europe, identified partnerships as an effective vehicle.

“Partnerships among countries, the public and private sectors, international organisations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and donor agencies are necessary to reform our food systems, and help bring about lasting change today and for future generations,” she added.

Da Costa invited the 457 delegates, representing 117 governments and 70 organisations, to focus on building consensus in setting standards. He said, “It is essential we do our best to further develop and disseminate Codex standards in order to ensure food safety and quality for everyone everywhere.”

The Commission meets for a week every year to adopt the standards, guidelines and codes of practice that are contained in the Codex Alimentarius, or food code. The texts are elaborated and proposed by technical and regional committees, who receive scientific assessments from expert bodies that are led by FAO and WHO.

Prior to the current session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, there were 221 Codex commodity standards, 106 maximum levels for contaminants in food, 4,130 maximum levels for food additives, 5,231 maximum residue limits for pesticide residues, 623 maximum residue limits for veterinary drugs in foods, 52 codes of practice and 78 guidelines.

Side event about pathways to learning
Codex member countries discussed the recent food safety-related capacity development initiatives that they undertook with FAO and WHO, during a side event on the opening day of the 41st session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC41).

The conversation centred on FAO- and WHO-led initiatives that complement the work of Codex, by building food safety capacities in countries using relevant tools, guidance and publications.

To achieve sustainable results at country level and ensure that efforts bring about lasting changes, Renata Clarke, head, Food Safety and Quality Unit, FAO, outlined the importance of taking into account the wider national or regional context and the need to prioritise.

“Our resources are limited, and we must prioritise to respond to the demand for capacity development initiatives,” she said, underlining the two Organizations’ and countries’ mutual interest in making the programmes more effective.

In announcing the FAO/WHO food control system assessment tool, which will soon be published, she told delegates about one of the by-products of its piloting. Countries saw the big picture of food control and understood what they do in relation to others.

“Food control is the job of many, and national food control systems will not work if all relevant stakeholders are not working together,” Clarke concluded.

Angelika Tritscher, coordinator, risk assessment and management, Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses, WHO, explained that the food safety-related capacity development activities carried out by the World Health Organization were also led by country and regional offices.

“A key role of headquarters is to develop the tools that are used at national level. It is important to identify the weaknesses that can then be supported with targeted capacity-building activities,” she said, referring delegates to the paper, which featured the publications and tools produced in the last year.

The side event largely featured inputs and feedback from Member countries. Cuba, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Nigeria, the Philippines, Senegal, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo and Uganda thanked FAO and WHO for projects that have benefited their food safety programmes. Several identified areas where further engagement would be invaluable.

FAO and WHO cover a range of issues to support global food safety and protect consumer’s health – while WHO tends to focus on public health, FAO strengthens food value chains. Some activities are implemented jointly at country level or through global joint programmes (for example, the FAO/WHO Scientific Advice Programme, the International Food Safety Authorities Network and Codex Trust Fund). Both Organizations work with government authorities, the food industry and primary producers and other relevant national and international stakeholders.

Side event about Codex Trust Fund 2 project results of the first round
Codex members again took centrestage during a Codex Alimentarius Commission side event, this time to present progress resulting from Codex Trust Fund 2 (CTF2) support.

Ghana, the Kyrgyz Republic, Madagascar and Senegal received funding for projects aimed at strengthening their national Codex structures in 2016, during the first round of the CTF2, and offered tips that could help the ten recipient countries of the second round of the CTF2 as well as future prospective applicants.

The purpose of the CTF, jointly operated by FAO and WHO, is to enable developing and transition economy countries to build strong, solid and sustainable national capacity to engage in Codex.

A dynamic conversation unfolded during the side event, which started off with the four beneficiaries of the first round describing the activities they undertook, which ranged from creating a website and a national procedural manual to training National Codex Committee members and translating Codex standards into national legislation.

Among the many interventions, the representative of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) took the floor to state, “We are really pleased to watch the video on the CTF success story and what CTF has already accomplished. The next step should be to bring more attention to Codex [standards, guidelines and codes of practice] at the national level, especially among decision makers”.

Nigeria’s representative expressed his appreciation of CTF. “We have done a lot, through our National Codex Committee, to urge our policy makers to buy into our Codex activities and provide the necessary support. Having a CTF would further benefit this process,” he said.

According to Burkina Faso’s representative, most countries focused on raising awareness on decision-makers, as what was lacking in most African countries was commitment from decision-makers.

Just ask
Just ask was the message of The Netherlands’s representative, who engaged in peer learning with her Ghanaian counterpart, noting the vast knowledge available within the Codex family. The former advised using the website to reach out to fellow members to seek advice, when needed.

Advice came from the countries that benefited from the first round of CTF2.
The representative of the Kyrgyz Republic encouraged other countries to submit CTF applications and emphasised the importance of making use of the diagnostic tools to identify weaknesses and establish priorities.

“The CTF has allowed us to mobilize further resources within the Codex framework,” she said, adding, “We will continue working on the projects initiated within the CTF.”

“As a country, you need to prioritise the activities you intend to undertake”, said the Ghanaian representative, adding, “Bringing in a CTF champion has been very effective.”

Said Senegal’s representative, “Thanks to the support provided by FAO and WHO through CTF2, we raised awareness on Codex at the national level. Our technical staff understands the Codex mandate more broadly.”

In addition, the Codex National Committee of Madagascar was working to develop a three-year plan to ensure the continuation of activities and find new partners to sustain their operations.

The discussion was an opportunity for countries aspiring to apply for funding in round three (a call for applications to open on August 15, 2018) to learn from others’ experiences, as well as benefit round two participants – Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, FYR of Macedonia, Guinea, Honduras, India, Mali, Nepal and Rwanda.

The event was moderated by the Codex Secretariat, with various FAO and WHO experts comprising the panel.
 
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