Launch of the FAO/WHO Project and Trust Fund for Enhanced Participation in Codex

Geneva, Switzerland
13 February 2003

Mr Chairman, Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we launch the FAO/WHO Trust Fund to enhance participation in Codex. It is an exciting moment - the culmination of several years of work both within the Codex Commission and between FAO and WHO.

I have watched the progress of this work with great interest because I am convinced that Codex is key to ensuring that people’s food is safe to eat. Codex plays a central role in safeguarding and improving human health. But Codex can only achieve its full potential if we are able to ensure a broad and effective participation in its processes from all corners of the world.

In 2001, your Chairman Mr Thomas Billy and I discussed the possibility of establishing a mechanism to widen participation in Codex. I was delighted, then, to respond to his challenge. Today we see the result of his vision – and, frankly, single-minded determination.

We have not been idle since those early discussions. In 2002, WHO developed a concept paper designed to stimulate thinking on the possibility of a new funding mechanism. We presented it to the Codex Executive Committee. The reception was good, so WHO formally indicated its willingness to host the administration of the Fund. The Executive Committee asked FAO and WHO to work together to elaborate administrative details. The result is our joint proposal that is submitted for your consideration now. It reflects the Executive Committee’s view that the trust fund must be operated in a fully transparent manner - without bias or influence.

The proposal also reflects the views of the Codex Evaluation Team – they see capacity building for safe food systems as one of the main priorities of developing countries. Indeed, the evaluators specifically welcomed the proposal to establish this new trust fund.

So why is the Fund so relevant at this time? In recent years, the world has woken up to the importance of ensuring that food is safe. Without useful, relevant, and science-based food standards that are endorsed by the world’s nations, there will be an increase in the burden of serious food-borne diseases. This will take a major toll on people’s health.

Serious outbreaks of food-borne disease have been documented on every continent in the past decade. They have demonstrated the public health and economic significance of safe food. Consumers everywhere view outbreaks of food-borne disease with ever-increasing concern. They have social and economic consequences for individuals, communities, businesses and nations. They impose a substantial burden on health-care systems and markedly reduce economic productivity. Poor people suffer more.

WHO and its Member States recognize that protecting food safety is an essential public health function. Food safety must be addressed along the entire food chain using measures based on sound scientific information - at both national and international levels.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is the body responsible for setting international food standards to protect the health of consumers and to ensure fair practices in the food trade. It is of primary importance to all countries – whatever their stage of economic development.

The FAO/WHO Trust Fund for Participation in Codex will increase the participation of developing and transition countries in the vital work of the Commission. The Fund will help regulators and food experts from all areas of the world participate in international standard setting work and enhance their capacity to develop effective food safety and quality standards. It will contribute to the building of better national and local food safety systems, with a lasting impact on public health and consumer confidence.

All 168 Codex members will be better able to effectively create and govern their domestic foods standards and food safety systems.

WHO will work with FAO in making this trust fund work, just as we are working on a range of other capacity building ventures relevant to the world’s need for safer food. We have learnt how to optimise the coordination between our organizations, drawing on our strengths and synergies. We know that we achieve far more by working together than by ploughing our own individual furrows.

A joint FAO/WHO Fundraising Plan has already been prepared, and several potential donors have expressed their interest. We are grateful to the Government of Switzerland which has shown the way with the first contribution.

The Fund is seeking up to US$ 40 million in total for a 12-year period. This translates into an annual need of US$ 3 –5 million. I urge all WHO and FAO Member Governments to support this fund by providing both political and financial backing. We depend on you to ensure that it fulfils its great potential. Future generations depend on its success: with your help, we can make it work.

Thank you.