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WTO forum emphasises trust, collaboration and transparency for future challenges


At the WTO International Forum on Food Safety and Trade held in Geneva, Switzerland, 23-24 April 2019, delegates learnt how food safety regulatory systems need to constantly adapt to challenges and how Codex needs to address emerging and new challenges in a timely and efficient manner, while keeping existing standards up to date.

Speaking in the thematic session “Promoting harmonized food safety regulation in a period of change and innovation”, Reri Indriani, Deputy Chairperson in the National Agency for Drug and Food Control of the Republic of Indonesia, said that to meet international standards in food safety, Indonesian industry would need to improve its readiness as “50 percent are small and medium-sized enterprises, so it is hard for them to comply with international standards”. Describing regional efforts in promoting harmonized food safety regulation,  “it is necessary to enhance close collaboration with the relevant stakeholders in order to share information on food safety issues”, she said.

Anne Bucher, Director-General for Health and Food Safety at the European Commission said that standards “play a fundamental role in EU trade”. She also explained how trust was main challenge to be tackled in harmonizing food safety regulations among the EU member states. “Members have to trust each other and rely on the scientific advice coming from the central level”, she said. The independency of scientific advice and transparency in the risk assessment process need to be combined with strong participation to follow the path commonly agreed, with members adjusting their control systems and accepting audits.

Rebecca Jane Irwin, Head of the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Surveillance Division, Public Health Agency of Canada spoke of the One Health approach to food safety particularly in the field of AMR. Referring to the use of antimicrobials, she said “a collaborative approach to a very complex issue has driven some very significant changes in the industry”. Surveillance is key to ensure public health goals around food safety and AMR are met and the Codex taskforce has engaged on developing guidance for integrated surveillance “and that’s quite an exciting piece [of work]”, said Irwin.

Anthony Huggett, Board Member of The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), said Codex “needed to get the timeframe right for responding to emerging issues”, equitably for both developed and developing countries. There are topics such as food contact materials, regulations for listeria and acrylamide where Codex will need “to decide when to address these issues before they become trade barriers”, he said. Harmonization and adoption of recognized methods is also very important “and Codex may have a role to play in that area as well”, said Huggett.

Guilherme Da Costa, Chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius, moderated the session. “The benefits of Codex, a member driven organization, will be for our populations”, he said and so it is in everyone’s interest to work together and use the outputs "from sessions such as this to improve Codex work in the area of food safety and fair practices in food trade and strengthen food safety harmonization worldwide".

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