Opening remarks

Twenty-fifth (Extraordinary) Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission

Geneva, Switzerland
12 February 2003

Mr Chairman, Dr de Haen, Ladies and gentlemen,

Our session this time is, indeed, a very special one of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. During the last few months, Codex has been subject to its first-ever review. You will be discussing the conclusions and recommendations of the evaluation of Codex jointly conducted by FAO and WHO.

Codex is seen to be particularly important in today’s world. Jacques Diouf and I both hope that this meeting will be a starting point for the strengthening – and possibly the redirection – of Codex. We want to be sure that the Codex process reflects the requirements of both the health and agriculture sectors in countries, as they – in turn – respond to the needs of their people. We have been taking the issues very seriously indeed: this meeting fits into the working schedules of the governing bodies of both WHO and FAO. I am very happy that so many delegations have found their way here to Geneva.

You will also be discussing the proposed Trust Fund for participation in Codex. This will better enable nations – particularly developing nations – to participate in Codex. By increased participation in Codex discussions, developing countries will be in a better position to contribute to global standard-setting procedures. They will also be in a better position to develop food safety systems that are adapted to their national situations.

Food safety is seen as important by WHO’s Member States. At the World Health Assembly nearly three years ago they called for increased WHO involvement in Codex. Food safety has been given priority status in WHO’s strategic programme budget. This is right. Illnesses that result from unsafe food are a substantial health and social burden in many countries. We have some evidence that they are on the increase. Our strategic approaches in food safety also include better surveillance of foodborne diseases, improved assessment of risks associated with different foods and food systems, the safety of new food-related technologies, means for communicating risks about food, and coordinated efforts to increase capacity for food safety within public health.

The evaluation report before you identifies these as important areas for WHO – and Codex – involvement.

As consumers, how do we know that our food is safe? We need to be confident that food systems are geared to the interests of the consumer. Someone must be paying attention to the condition of our food from the farm to the table, and from the raw material to the cooked meal. This calls for a culture which detects and manages food-related health risks at the local, national and global levels. Such a culture evolves from a science-based and systematic approach. And Codex offers the standards on which this approach depends. No wonder Codex is seen as important by so many Governments, as well as by all who have a stake in food systems.

Thanks to you, and to backing from your governments and other stakeholders, international standards for food are reflecting the available science. Indeed, the Codex process significantly contributes to national goals for food safety and nutrition.

Within WHO, we recognise that risk analysis and management techniques are the mainstay of Codex deliberations. The recommendations made in the evaluation report suggest ways in which the Codex Alimentarius Commission and its subsidiary bodies can be given stronger scientific support so that they can function more effectively.

It is reasonable that Codex remains a programme cosponsored by its parent organizations. Its mandate should be redefined in ways that reflect the needs of nations, as well as budgetary realities and the joint work already in progress. But its work must also reflect the programme of work approved by the parent organizations as embellished in the Strategic Framework of the Codex Alimentarius Commission for 2003-2007.

In due course, I would like to see the mandate developed to reflect these emerging realities, with input from the Member States of FAO and WHO, and our governing bodies.

Food safety, food standards, food production and food trade are increasingly seen as an integral part of sustainable development. The recognition of these linkages is a significant step forward for developing economies. Safer food systems bring direct benefits to health: they also promote economic development through encouraging safer global trade. That is why safer food is a real win-win goal – both for industrialized and developing countries. It opens the way for developing countries to increase their capacity to trade in food, and thus to improve their prospects for economic development.

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

Codex is at a crossroads. The Codex Alimentarius Commission was set up 40 years ago when our world was a very different place. We have all benefited greatly from the vision of our predecessors who understood the need for standards to safeguard the health of consumers and to ensure fair practices in the food trade. But now we live in a world where production and propagation systems have changed, everything moves faster and further, whether it is information, food or disease.

We have in hand a comprehensive overview of the situation today. It is up to us to make the best use of this opportunity to move Codex into the new century and be seen by future generations to have played our part in adapting to new circumstances and laying the ground for a healthier world.

I hope you will conclude that we should move forward with the implementation of the recommendations of this evaluation. The parent organizations in Codex will continue doing their best to provide high quality, independent, scientific advice to the Codex process through the joint expert bodies. I will therefore work with FAO to convene a consultation to review the status and procedures of the expert bodies in order to strengthen scientific support and science-based decision making, as requested by the Commission in 2001.

I wish you all very constructive deliberations.

Thank you.