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Virtual Commission opens with an emphasis on innovation


The Directors-General of FAO and WHO, the parent organizations of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, set the stage for five days of decision-making on food standards with a message about getting ‘better’. More than 800 registered delegates joined the first-ever virtual Commission, now in its 43rd session, held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In congratulating the Commission for ‘jumping into the digital world’, FAO Director-General Dr QU Dongyu noted that science is the driving force for setting Codex food standards. “When I first came into contact with Codex what impressed me about it was the commitment to base its standards on science and evidence,” he said, underscoring that Codex standards help contribute to achieving the four ‘betters’: to produce better, have better nutrition, a better environment and a better life.

He called on Codex, referring to it as a shining example of SDG17 on partnerships, ‘to explore the power of innovation and digital technology to continue your important work.’ “Adopting digital solutions would allow you to meet more frequently and deliver standards more efficiently,” he said, looking toward 2021.

Digitalization is an area where FAO is working to harness the potential of modern technology for everyone involved in food and agriculture. FAO is planning to establish an international platform for digital food and agriculture, which will present an opportunity for Codex, he said of the inclusive multi-stakeholder forum that will be used to identify and discuss the potential benefits and risks of digitalization of the food and agricultural sectors.

The FAO Director-General concluded his opening remarks by emphasizing innovation. “If you cannot change yourselves, how can you change the world?” he pointedly asked before reminding the meeting that “healthy food is essential for a healthy life.”

“The pandemic is both a health and a humanitarian crisis,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, observing that COVID-19 ‘has exposed the fragility not only of health systems, but also of food systems’.

“WHO is working not only to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to mitigate its consequences, but also to support countries in building back better,” he said. Noting the links between the health of humans, animals and the planet, the WHO Director-General urged a ‘One health’ approach that addresses all three in protecting our own health.

He informed delegates that earlier in 2020, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on ‘Strengthening efforts on food safety’, reaffirming that food safety is a public health priority. “This strategy aims to address current and emerging challenges and will consider innovative approaches for strengthening food safety systems,” he said, adding that it calls for greater investment in Codex Alimentarius.

Unveiling a newly published report about World Food Safety Day 2020, which took place in June, the WHO Director-General said, “All actors in the food system were invited to promote awareness about what everyone can do to ensure food safety, especially in markets, and for the need to reinforce hygienic practices” under the theme ‘Food safety, everyone’s business’.

Meeting online allows for instant participant reaction. In the public online chat feature the delegate from Ethiopia posted the five calls to action of the 7 June campaign: Ensure it’s safe, grow it safe, keep it safe, eat it safe and team up for safety. Other delegates applauded the text as the WHO Director-General expressed that ‘the COVID-19 pandemic is an enormous challenge, but it’s also an opportunity – an opportunity to change’.

Guilherme Da Costa, Codex Alimentarius Commission Chairperson, wrapped up the opening with some thoughts about the way the pandemic has affected every-day life, food production and trade. “To challenge the scenario even more,” he said, “figures show serious problems due to lack of food safety control, annually causing thousands of foodborne diseases, deaths, unemployment and economic crisis in different countries.”

He urged the Commission ‘to build a better Codex for the world, to prevent foodborne diseases, to generate employment and income for all Codex Members’.


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