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Director General  José Graziano da Silva

Food safety tops the agenda of Geneva visit

By FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva

The 40th session of the FAO-WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is responsible for setting international food standards to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair food trade practices, kicked off on Monday, but the topic of food safety was also a recurrent, cross-cutting theme during my meetings in Geneva last week.

Together with the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevedo, we launched a very significant FAO-WTO study on global trade and food standards, as part of the two organizations’ complementary efforts in this field. The publication describes a framework, which though mostly unknown to the general public, works to enhance the safety and authenticity of food served every day on people’s tables worldwide.

The study also addresses the notion that, in the future, opportunities and challenges that emerge with new technologies and innovation, will not only promote the adoption of new international standards, but also influence trade between countries. Technologies such as the genetic sequencing of food, for example, can change the way we identify and respond to food-related risks. 

In the absence of food standards, each country would have to develop its own rules, with no accepted international benchmarks for what is safe or healthy. The joint work of FAO and WTO highlights how international trade and food safety are complementary and contribute to achieving the UN’s broader Sustainable Development Goals, such as ending hunger and promoting economic growth, good health and well-being.

In Geneva, I also had the opportunity to have my first meeting with the new Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. During our talks, I stressed the importance for all stakeholders - including governments, the UN System, private sector and civil society - to combine their efforts to strengthen food integrity, ensure food authenticity and guarantee food safety. This is the only way we can all not only enjoy adequate access to food, but also trust that it is safe and good for us.

In this context, I informed Dr Tedros on the FAO Conference’s s approval of a resolution for the establishment of World Food Safety Day to be celebrated on June 7th. We agreed to that we will bring this proposal together to the UN General Assembly as soon as the WHO main governing bodies approve it.

During our discussions, we both stressed how FAO and WHO’s leading role in the Codex Alimentarius Commission is one of the best examples of collaboration between our two organizations. Through this, we can jointly provide capacity building to countries to implement food safety systems.

Dr Tedros and I also discussed our very important common agenda on nutrition, including developments related to the the Rome Declaration on Nutrition made at  the 2014 Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2)  and the UN Decade on Nutrition. As we know, and as is stated in the draft resolution for World Food Safety Day, “improvements in diet and nutrition require relevant legislative frameworks for food safety and quality, including for the proper use of agrochemicals, by promoting participation in the activities of the Codex Alimentarius Commission for the development of international standards for food safety and quality”.

During our meeting, Dr Tedros and I also had the opportunity to address together the United Nations Security Council on the food and health crisis in Yemen. In addition to the fact that it is the country in the world most severely affected by food insecurity, Yemen also faces a cholera outbreak, which profoundly impacts on the safety of food safety and drinking water.

In conclusion, I’d like to note how my very short trip to Geneva served to reinforce my conviction that concerted action within the UN System, including from different angles and perspectives, can really provide effective responses to global issues, as outlined by FAO, WTO and WHO efforts. Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO's efforts; but there is no way to ensure food security without ensuring food safety.