14 February 2003 Rome/Geneva -- A $40 million Trust Fund to help the world's least developed countries participate in Codex Alimentarius, was launched in Geneva today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Codex Alimentarius sets food standards that protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in food trade.

The Project and Fund for Enhanced Participation in Codex is expected to run for 12 years and has already received its first contribution from Switzerland.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) was established in 1963 by FAO and WHO and has 168 member countries today. Because the CAC establishes international food safety and trade standards, it is equally important to developed and developing countries.

However, many developing countries, particularly the least developed ones, have not fully participated in the work of the CAC because of the cost involved in attending meetings and working groups.

The new Trust Fund will help some 120 developing countries and countries in transition increase their participation in the vital work of the Commission.

The fund will also help regulators and food experts from all areas of the world participate in setting international standards and enhance their capacity to develop effective food safety and quality standards, both within the framework of the Codex Alimentarius and national food safety systems in their own countries.

Speaking at the Geneva launch today, during at extraordinary session of the CAC, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO said, "We believe that through their increased participation in Codex, all 168 Codex members will be better able to create and govern their domestic food standards and food safety systems. This will enable all Codex Members both to improve the quality and safety of food at home and to be more effective when trading their food internationally."

Dr Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO, said "Developing countries say they often find it difficult to take part in Codex and have their voice heard. Due to limited resources, governments in developing countries cannot always give Codex activities the high priority they deserve. This must change. All countries, especially the developing countries, need to be fully involved in the international debate and in drawing up policy guidance on food safety and trade."

Mr Tom Billy, Chairman of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, said: "On behalf of the Commission, this new initiative is very welcome as it fits into the overall strategic framework of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, and will contribute to the ability of member countries to participate in moving Codex rapidly forward in response to the needs of today's world."

Food safety standards have become increasingly important in recent years, as countries faced a number of food safety crises, such as mad cow disease, dioxin contamination of animal feed and listeria contamination of milk products and ready-to-eat foods.

According to FAO and WHO, appropriate food standards, when properly implemented, serve to safeguard the health of consumers. When such standards are lacking, or when existing standards are not consistently applied, the result can be an increased spread of serious food-borne diseases.

Harmonized food standards also contribute to a rule-based trading system that is predictable and non-discriminatory, which supports the agriculture sector and promotes development in general.

FAO Contact
John Riddle, Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53259

WHO Contact
Mr Gregory Hartl
Communications Adviser for Sustainable Development and HealthyEnvironmentshartlg@who.int
(+41 22) 791 4458