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COVID-19 / Update on Codex meeting schedule


Codex meetings bring together experts from all over the world and the session calendar for 2020 has 15 committees scheduled in multiple international locations across 5 continents. FAO internal guidance for staff, including the Codex Secretariat, following the COVID-19 outbreak states that travel is to be limited to “critical missions and time-sensitive essential travel”. This means for example that the workshop planned for committee host secretariats in France from 27-29 March 2020 has now been postponed.

FAO has also postponed all meetings of more than 50 external participants for the month of March at headquarters in Rome, Italy.

What then of the busy upcoming Codex agenda that should see at least 6 more meetings convened before the Codex Alimentarius Commission is due to sit in July? Tom Heilandt Codex Secretary outlined the current status and spoke of possible contingency plans for the coming months.

Q: Firstly, what is the status of meetings on the Codex calendar?

Heilandt: WHO continues to advise against the application of travel restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and this would mean that Codex meetings could go ahead as planned. However, as with the additives and pesticide residues committees, together with national authorities we have looked to act in the interests of public health and that is why the sessions have been postponed.

Q: Many countries are cancelling or postponing large events. Would Codex meetings fall under the definition of mass gatherings?

Heilandt: Although WHO does not numerically quantify a mass gathering, the definition talks about an event where the “number of people attending could strain the planning and response resources of the community or country hosting the event”. It is my personal opinion that Codex committees in all the locations planned for 2020 do not fall under such a definition. However, FAO for March has postponed all meetings with more than 50 external participants and so we are working closely with host secretariats in order to reach clear decisions regarding our own meeting schedules.

Q: What will happen if committees are not able to meet before the Commission in July and so standards cannot be adopted?

Heilandt: We are already in preliminary discussions with FAO and WHO to mitigate for such an eventuality should it rise.

Q: With the current FAO travel restrictions in place on staff, do you imagine a Codex meeting going ahead without the Codex Secretariat?

Heilandt: I have spoken to the FAO legal department and their position was that a meeting could not go ahead without the Codex Secretariat. We are in constant contact with France, regarding the upcoming CCGP session and will be guided by the decisions of the host government and FAO/WHO in all matters.

Q: Could the Commission itself be cancelled or postponed?

Heilandt: We expect to have a clearer picture on possible scenarios for July over the coming weeks and we will communicate all updates as soon as we have them both through the Codex Members and Observers official channel, via our Twitter account and on the Codex website.


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WHO updates on COVID-19