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The Chairperson of the Coordinating Committee for the Near East talks to us ahead of September meeting


The eleventh meeting of the Codex Coordinating Committee for the Near East (CCNE) will take place 18–22 September at FAO headquarters in Rome. We spoke to Khalid S Al Zhrani, from the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA), who will chair CCNE11 on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the current Regional Coordinator for the Near East, to find out more about him and his expectations for the meeting.

Q. Khalid, thanks for your time. For those who don’t know you, could you remind us of what you do outside of Codex?
I work as a head of the international communication for food standards in the SFDA. My job mainly involves engaging with regional and international organizations (for example, Codex, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries (SMIIC), the Arab Industrial Development, Standardization and Mining Organization (AIDSMO), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council Standardization Organization (GSO)) to ensure consistency of national standards with international standards.

Q. This is the first time for you to chair CCNE and a Codex committee. How are you preparing for it and what are your expectations?
Prior to being assigned to the CCNE chairmanship, I had the opportunity of representing Saudi Arabia in several Codex-related activities, which played a significant role in familiarizing me with the nature and workings of the CCNE and other Codex committees. The constant support from the Codex Secretariat and regional Codex Contact Points (CCPs) have allowed me to prepare well for this role. For instance, during the agenda-setting stage, both the CCNE team and the Codex Secretariat have been in close contact which has helped me tremendously in streamlining activities and increasing work efficiency. I am looking forward to arriving at a unified regional position with regard to matters arising from the CCNE meetings. I am confident that the outcome of the CCNE deliberations will enrich Codex texts.

Q. Nonetheless you have been already involved in many Codex activities. Tell us more.
It is always great to be part of other Codex activities, including training, webinars and general and commodity committees. My participation has allowed me to understand Codex’s perspective.  One successful story in relation to my involvement with Codex was guiding participation of Near East Members in the “Survey-use and impact of Codex texts” meeting. Prior to the scheduled meeting, Near East Members met virtually in order to prepare for the event and provide their views. Moreover, on World Food Safety Day 2023, I invited Near East Members to join in celebrating this day and share the role of their respective agencies in the field of food safety. This was a great opportunity for the regional government agencies to meet on a large scale and discuss food-related issues as well as congratulating Codex on its sixtieth anniversary.

Q. So, why did you become interested in food safety and Codex?
I have a master’s degree in food safety and have always been interested in tackling food safety-related challenges. In addition, I work for an authority responsible for food control and for setting food standards, which save lives.

Q. What do you see as the highlights of the CCNE11 agenda?

  • Codex work relevant to the region
  • Alignment of regional standards
  • Implementation of Codex Strategic Plan 2020-2025

I advise delegates to enjoy their time and build valuable connections

Q. What do you think are the big food safety and quality challenges for the region now and in the future?
The Near East region, just like many other regions in the world, faces new challenges in food safety, which may continue to emerge, largely due to changes in the environment, food production and food supply. Other challenges include emerging foodborne bacteria, the presence of toxins in foods, and antimicrobial resistance. The lack of sufficient risk assessment data at regional level may exacerbate these challenges, in terms of having the relevant information to make good risk management decisions. Since the issue of data collection has been troublesome for Members in the region, we have come to a consensus that there is an urgency to collaborate with WHO in developing data collection strategies. To this end, we already plan to hold a side event in the margins of CCNE11 so that we can share the Saudi experience in setting a Saudi/WHO joint monitoring programme. It is expected that such information will be the building block for developing national monitoring programmes, which will enable us to provide data into the Global Environment Monitoring System/Food Contamination Monitoring and Assessment Programme (GEMS/Food Platform). The contribution of Near East Members in sharing data with GEMS will increase engagement of Members with Codex committees and will help ensure that during the development of the supporting risk assessments and the Codex standards themselves, data which reflects the situation in the Near East region can be taken into account.

What special advice would you give to new delegates attending CCNE for the first time?
I encourage delegates to actively engage in all the agenda items, as all insights and comments are valuable. To expand their knowledge, new delegates should take time to read the working documents for the session as well as those from previous sessions and other related Codex meetings to gain an insight into the work and how it has evolved.  They may need to reach out to Codex Secretariat staff, who I am sure will never hesitate to assist. They may also need to consider seeking advice from experienced representatives and attend informative side events. I just advise them to enjoy their time and build valuable connections. I think it would be useful for new Members to take part in future Codex committees and activities so that they can understand the workings of Codex.

Learn more

Meeting webpage including al working documents


Photo © FAO/Roberto Sciotti