ROME/GENEVA, 22 April 2002 -- The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have launched a joint evaluation of FAO and WHO food standards programme, including the Codex Alimentarius, so that the programme best serves the concerns of all (the rich and poor) regarding health, safety and trade in food. This is the first evaluation process of the international food code, Codex Alimentarius, and its standard-setting mechanisms after 40 years of operations.

The two Organizations are inviting comments from the public to ensure that all those with a stake in the use of these food standards could make their views known.

"In both developed and developing countries, the number and variety of food safety threats are on the increase. We need to ensure that international food standard work responds to the challenges of the new millennium in order to meet more effectively the needs of the world's people and we therefore welcome this timely review," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO Director-General.

Dr Jacques Diouf, FAO's Director-General, said "every day food safety and quality issues vary dramatically from country to country. National capabilities to use and apply food standards must be enhanced if global food safety is ever to be realized and I am pleased that this timely evaluation will be looking at the wider aspects of applying food standards at a practical level."

The world has changed dramatically since the Codex Alimentarius Commission was established 40 years ago. Public concern over food safety issues is now widespread, and consumers are much more aware of what they regard as threats to their health, and of their rights to full information on foods. The link between safe food, a balanced diet and the overall health and productivity of the population is increasingly recognized. In addition, the need for standards agreed through open and transparent processes has been highlighted as a result of the recognition by the World Trade Organization (WTO) of Codex standards as the reference point for trade in foodstuffs.

This evaluation of FAO's and WHO's food standards programme is being carried out by an independent Evaluation Team and an Expert Panel. The evaluation process began in April 2002 and is scheduled to be completed in early 2003, with a report that will include recommendations for consideration by the Governing Bodies of both FAO and WHO. To produce the report, the Evaluation Team will conduct the widest possible consultations with the member countries of FAO and WHO and other stakeholders. In addition to a formal questionnaire on key issues to Member States and stakeholders through official channels, the evaluation process will comprise a variety of methods including country visits, in-depth interviews, literature reviews, etc.

Thus, one element of the evaluation process is to invite informal comments from the global public and all potentially interested parties, in an attempt to include the broadest possible range of relevant issues.

Issues for public comment could, for example, include the following aspects:

- The relevance and adequacy of Codex and other standards as a basis for consumer health protection, trade and economic development;

- The adequacy of governance structures and decision-making processes in food standards work, including Codex;

- The speed and transparency of the Codex process, including the
independence of Codex bodies and of scientific advice given to Codex, and avoidance of conflict of interest;

- Opportunities to participate in the Codex process, including for developing countries, and representation of developing country interests in Codex;

- Implications for future international systems of food safety and food standards developments relative to public health, food trade and economic development in a broader sense.