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FOOD SAFETY

Emphasis on food safety & related areas mark Codex’ 5-day 41st Session
Tuesday, 10 July, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Rome
Side sessions that emphasised on food safety and related areas marked the Codex Alimentarius Commission’s 41st Session, a joint FAO and WHO food standards programme, that concluded at FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy, recently.

The five-day meet, an annual ritual to adopt standards, guidelines and codes of practice that are contained in the Codex Alimentarius or food code, was marked by 457 delegates, representing 117 governments and 70 organisations, focussing on building consensus in setting standards.

A side session explores the benefits of the WTO ePing system
When trading products, governments establish requirements to accomplish policy objectives including the protection of human, animal and plant health, or protection of the environment. The World Trade Organization (WTO) SPS and TBT Agreements aim to ensure that these requirements do not create unnecessary obstacles to international trade. Under the WTO, members are required to notify other members before adopting new measures if these are likely to affect international trade and provide an opportunity for comments.

At a side session of CAC41, Serra Ayral of WTO presented ePing, an online system enabling timely access to SPS and TBT notifications and facilitating dialogue amongst the public and private sectors in addressing potential trade issues at an early stage.

“Given the high volume and diversity of SPS and TBT measures notified by WTO members, reaching more than 4,000 in 2017, it can be a challenge for interested stakeholders to track and react to changing product requirements in a timely manner,” she said. “By registering to ePing, users can receive email alerts containing notifications of particular interest to them and also share further information on notifications,” she concluded.

Given the high volume of notifications and the diverse export interests of developing countries, it is a challenge for interested stakeholders, especially the private sector, to track and react to these notifications. A well-functioning self-subscribing alert system aims to help overcome these challenges.

Participants were given an overview of the system, which was jointly developed by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Trade Centre (ITC). They learned that notifications related to food products are increasing both in the SPS and in TBT area, including from developing countries.

Several members reported efficiency gains in their enquiry point’s mechanisms and in information exchange with industry groups.

A side session on global funding for food safety initiatives
“While the Codex Trust Fund is about establishing national Codex structures and helping developing standards, the Standard Trade Development Facility (STDF) comes in at the following step to help countries implement the standards,” explained Melvin Spreij, head of STDF secretariat, at a side event of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. “Achieving food safety is a joint responsibility. We encourage developing countries to apply to STDF project preparation grants and project grants,” he added.

The STDF, a global partnership, helps developing countries increase their capacities to meet international standards and gain and maintain market access.

Lucy Namu of KEPHIS presented a global Maximum Residue Level (MRL) project aimed at facilitating market access of tropical fruits. “The project in Africa was focussed on mango. The problem was to find a management tool for pests, then to deal with pesticide residues,” she explained. “As a result, African countries have initiated a harmonisation process for MRLs of pesticides in mango and will submit a MRL proposal through the Codex standard setting process later this year,” she concluded.

“SPS issues are multi-disciplinary,” Benoit Gnonlonfin, STDF developing country expert, explained. “Countries face challenges with border management, lack of coordination and feedback mechanisms at national level, mistrust of SPS decision-making process, and poor SPS notifications from member states.” Recalling the value-added of STDF as a coordination/knowledge platform, he underscored the importance of sound project development.

Among other countries, Senegal thanked donors for the funding received for the STDF project on improving market access for small-scale fisheries in West Africa, recognising that it supported capacity building and information exchange activities with a number of stakeholders.

The CAC chair also shared his experience with STDF as an expert from a developing country. “STDF supports Codex in facilitating trade and protect consumers’ health,” he concluded.

Over the last 20 years, the agricultural sector has seen remarkable growth, especially in developing countries. With increased movement and trade of agricultural products come increasing sanitary and phytosanitary challenges. Thus, strong national sanitary and phytosanitary systems become critical for countries to facilitate trade and protect consumer health.

Famous chef demonstrates the WHO Five Keys to Food Safety
Heinz Beck, a well known three-star Michelin chef, gave Codex members and observers a glimpse of his approach to creating fine, safe cuisine. Cooking up a symphony of ‘vegetables of the heart,’ Beck emphasised the importance of food hygiene and applying Codex standards in the kitchen.

FAO deputy director-general Maria Helena Semedo introduced Beck, highlighting the principles to which he adheres: circular economy, zero food waste, tasty and healthy food, which help conserve natural resources and keep customers returning. He brings science to the production of high-quality dishes, she said, noting that he and FAO work on matters of common interest: the supply chain, sustainability and the role of science and technology in food.

“We should all know about food safety and quality, no matter where you eat,” Codex secretary Tom Heilandt said, explaining why the Codex Secretariat invited a chef to the event.

Bringing to life the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food, Beck provided some concrete advice while showing how he creates one of his signature dishes: hands, surfaces and uniforms should be kept clean at all times, raw meat separate from other foods, foods cooked thoroughly, fresh fruits and vegetables refrigerated and washed with water before use.

“We are what we eat,” the chef said, stressing the importance of safe and nutritious food.

The event gave visibility to Costa Rica’s proposal for a World Food Safety Day that will go before the United Nations General Assembly later this year.

Originally from Germany, Beck has headed up La Pergola restaurant in Rome, Italy, for the last 24 years, inspired by nature to create his works of art.

The commission meets for a week every year. 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 41st 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.
 
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