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Codex Executive Committee: a trailblazer for virtual working


The 79th session of the Executive Committee of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CCEXEC79) has recommended that key Codex texts on food hygiene and the management of food allergens, together with a series of regional and worldwide commodity standards – from kava to chilli sauce, kiwifruit, garlic and yam – be sent for adoption at the next Commission session: CAC43. This session will go ahead virtually starting late September if Codex members give their consent to the modalities currently under development by the Codex Secretariat with FAO and WHO.

CCEXEC79, the first ever Codex meeting held fully online, met over three half-days, and made clear recommendations to the Commission on ongoing work, in particular to ensure vital texts on antimicrobial resistance can be completed on time.

“The Codex family is demonstrating itself to be a tremendous unit and it is essential we do our best to further develop and disseminate Codex standards to ensure food safety and quality for everyone, everywhere”, said Chairperson Guilherme da Costa, Brazil.

CCEXEC79 in Zoom

Executive Committee historic first virtual session 13-20 July 2020

The meeting also discussed ways to carry on developing Codex standards across the technical committees, usually hosted in over 10 different countries, if physical meetings cannot be held in 2021.

“To keep postponing meetings because we cannot hold them physically is not an option. We need to understand where to invest if we cannot resume business as usual”, said Tom Heilandt, Codex Secretary. “Codex members have shown immense commitment and flexibility to continue their work virtually. However, there has been an impact on all of them, with many experts who would normally be working on Codex issues being called upon to work on pandemic-related matters in their own countries. We are also very aware there are concerns when working virtually regarding the availability of interpretation and that there are technical challenges for some countries”, he said.

“I think this is an opportunity for us as Codex to be trailblazers and actually recommend or make suggestions as to what works for our circumstances”, said Usha Sriram-Prasad, Australia. “We should continue to try to finalize existing work using new and innovative methods as well as consider the forward agenda of the committees and the lessons that we learnt during this pandemic”.

Science-based food safety standards.

Food security is an issue that has been raised as a potential consequence of the pandemic and has heightened the importance of continuing to adhere to science-based food safety standards. “The principles and guidelines developed by Codex committees, including the Food Hygiene Committee and the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems, can offer guidance to support the continuation of open trade of safe food both during and after the pandemic”, said Sriram-Prasad.

Kimutai Maritim, Kenya said: “When it is possible to have physical meetings, we would really like to continue again, with them”. A move to hybrid meetings, where there would be some members attending physically, others virtually, could raise issues regarding visas, “so we need to be cautious … building consensus and being inclusive”, he said.

Improving performance.

“We have to move ahead within Codex”, said Hanan Fouad Hamid Ibrahim Hashem, Egypt. “We need to come up with some new mechanisms and use technology in order to improve Codex's performance and guarantee its future whilst being able to draw on experience elsewhere in other organizations too”.

Timothy Tumukon, Vanuatu, said that the Codex Trust Fund “should widen its focus and scope to support especially the developing countries in making sure they are able to meet their engagement obligations under Codex”.

The Executive Committee will now examine the impact of the pandemic on Codex work and provide advice to the Commission on how to best continue in 2020-2021. “We will exchange ideas with the whole Codex membership on this topic”, said Mariam Eid, Lebanon, Vice-Chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, tasked with leading the work. “We will prepare an intermediary response in early September and we will attempt to engage in every way possible with members to ensure all ideas and concerns are addressed in the final report which should be published in November 2020”.


Learn more

For a full list of standards recommended for adoption and new work proposals, read the CCEXEC79 report when it is published on the Codex web site.

Photo credit

© FAO.

Main photo shows Codex Secretary Tom Heilandt (left) with Chairperson Guilherme da Costa.