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For healthier populations, we will rely on Codex to continue its work


This year's edition of the CODEX magazine, titled "60 years of standards", is out now! Read some of our articles online and click on the link below to download the full publication.

Dr Ailan Li, WHO Assistant Director-General, Universal Health Coverage, Healthier Populations answered questions about why Codex is important to global public health.
Q: What is the role of the Codex Alimentarius in improving global public health?
Food safety is a major global challenge. The 2015 WHO Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases report was based on 31 selected foodborne hazards and  found that these hazards result in more than 600 million cases of foodborne illness and 420 000 deaths every year. Foodborne diseases affect specifically vulnerable people, especially children under 5 years old. This is especially true in low- and middle-income countries.

Malnutrition is responsible for a great share of the global burden of disease. Around the world, 1.9 billion adults are overweight, and more than 600 million of them are obese. Another 462 million adults are underweight, and 264 million women of childbearing age have iron-amenable anaemia. Also, 41 million children under 5 years old are overweight or obese, 155 million are stunted, and 52 million are wasted. Malnutrition and unhealthy diets are responsible for about one third of the global burden of disease.

Improving diet and nutrition requires efficient food systems with evidence-based food standards. Since 1963 Codex has been developing standards based on science and risk analysis. Codex standards and related texts help countries manage the risk of pesticides, pathogens, additives, chemical and microbial contaminants, allergens in foods; provide guidance on the use of biotechnology in food production, advice on reference values for nutrients, on consumers’ information through food labelling, and a lot more.

Q: From the WHO perspective, what do you think the most important achievements of Codex over the past 60 years have been?
The Codex Alimentarius, is a compilation of all the codes of practice, guidelines, and standards that the Codex Alimentarius Commission has agreed to over the last 60 years.

Codex has agreed over 10 000 numerical standards and hundreds of guidelines or codes of practice. The numerical standards set limits for additives, contaminants, pesticide residues, and veterinary drugs in food. All of these are freely available on the Codex website, along with many other resources to help with their implementation, and hundreds more are added every year. This is a big accomplishment.

An even more significant contribution, however, has been the establishment of an open method of working that has attracted the participation of 188 Member Countries and over 230 Observer Organizations.

I am convinced that Codex is adequately equipped to face forthcoming complex challenges

Q: When Codex was established in 1963, one of the key concerns for WHO and, indeed, one of the drivers for setting up the Codex Alimentarius Commission, was the increased use of chemicals in food processing and the potential risk to consumer health.  What are the main concerns today that drive WHO to continue to support the standard setting work of Codex?
There are still good reasons for WHO to continue evaluating the use of chemicals as food additives and how they might affect people's health. To better protect people, their evaluations have become more complicated. But there are issues beyond just additives. There are issues about chemical contaminants and pathogens, some of which could be getting worse because of climate change. There are also issues about nutrition and the ability of food systems to provide healthy and affordable food. For WHO, Codex is well positioned to help food systems transformation for safe, healthy and sustainable diets. Furthermore, the work and impact of Codex contributes to WHO’s goal of building healthier populations that enjoy better health and wellbeing as well as addressing the root causes of ill health.

Q: We are working in an ever more complex global environment. What is key to the ongoing success of Codex in the decades ahead?
The world is more connected and interdependent than ever before. One financial upset can stop our economies in their tracks, one infrastructure failure can mess up whole production chains, and pandemics are getting harder to control. This growing complexity is rarely considered in policymaking. We need to keep in mind that our main objective is to make people's lives better, both now and in the future. Achieving fair chances and good living conditions for as many people as possible require us to recognize how complicated our world is, get more tools, and change the way we think about things.

Based on its open and inclusive approach to work and its well-organized structure, I am convinced that Codex is adequately equipped to face forthcoming complex challenges. Codex has recently demonstrated its ability to address intricate challenges, including those associated with AMR.  Codex was successful in publishing its Code of Practice to Minimize and Contain Foodborne Antimicrobial Resistance after reaching consensus in a complex environment.

Multiple emerging challenges, including climate change and population growth will force food systems to evolve with a demand for new technologies and new sources of energy and nutrients.. Codex needs to be ready to identify hazards and help policy makers manage risks.

The attainment of healthy food systems will be contingent upon the formulation of novel approaches to food production as well as the exploration and implementation of innovative food sources and production techniques. Codex has the potential to establish a mechanism for addressing the requirement for novel standards.

Codex, FAO and WHO should continue to invest resources to recruit the top experts in the field to offer their insights and advice on the establishment of standards.

Q What is your birthday wish for Codex?
Of course, my first birthday wish for Codex is for it to live a long and happy life and I'll say long-term funds for the science programme and Secretariat so we can meet the needs of all Member Countries to deal with their complexities, and keep Codex work relevant.

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