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“Move things forward and get new Codes out there in the world” - Contaminants committee begins next week


The Seventeenth Session of the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods (CCCF17) will take place 15–19 April 2024 in Panama City, Panama. As the meeting approaches, we spoke to Sally Hoffer, from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, who will chair CCCF17 on behalf of The Netherlands, to find out more about the agenda of the Committee, co-hosting a Codex meeting and her expectations for this session.


Sally, thanks for your time. This is the fourth time for you to chair CCCF. How has the work of the Committee changed over the last few years?

To prepare to the best of our abilities we have organized more interactions with the electornic working groups (EWG) chairs during the year. We discussed in these sessions the progress of work and how to present the results in a clear and concise manner in plenary. Also the secretariats (Host, Codex and JECFA ) have had more meetings to discuss if we are doing things right and taking actions when necessary. This year we also had to prepare for a co-host meeting, a situation not familiar to me. Although we could still rely on our experience with previous co-host meetings fine tuning everything remains an important factor. We are very fortunate with how Panama worked side by side with us to make this a success. In all, a good meeting requires a ton of work behind the scenes. Getting to know each other, valuing each other strengths and making clear what to expect makes it all the way easier to get good results.

And how has your chairing style changed considering the different realities you had to work in?

I am working hard to grow as Chairperson. I am fully aware of my responsibility to ensure that all the items are discussed in line with the agenda, that everyone’s views are heard and that clear decisions are reached and accepted. I have put effort in the follow up to make sure that agreed actions are carried out in line of the wishes of plenary. And I hope that I can make everyone feel confident and safe enough to share their views, challenge the views of others, and also settle for a joint decision. I also welcome feedback from the delegates in how to improve my chairmanship and what I need to value and continue.

Looking at CCCF17, this year the Committee will be co-hosted in Panama. This is not the first time The Netherlands will have co-hosted. What is the value of co-hosting a Codex meeting in your view?

We have a long tradition of co-hosting where we meet in the co-hosting country. It is a great opportunity for countries to showcase Codex regionally and meet intensively with their neighboring countries. And if more countries are interested, please do contact us.

Tell us about the agenda of CCCF17.

Our core business is the development of standards and codes of practice whose main purpose is to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in food trade. This year for instance we are discussing work which focuses on lead in certain food commodities, methyl mercury in fish and ciguatera poisoning.

I hope that we can further work in the step procedure and come to agreements with respect to new work. A lot of discussion papers have been put forward on the latter. New work is especially focused on revising code of practices and generating new ones. An important part of Codex since the most recent knowledge regarding how to produce, handle and store foodstuffs will be laid down in text. And with the clear presentations of our eWG chairs and good discussions in the presession meetings and plenary I am sure that we move things forward and get new Codes out there in the world. Yet, it remains to the delegations to approve or raise their concerns.

Talking about the future of the Committee, what are the emerging issues in food safety relevant to contaminants?

Last year we had a foresight session which provided an overview on some emerging issues, including e.g. new foods, feed safety, circular economy etc. And the current strategies and policies to take advantage of future opportunities as well as to manage potential risks. We have asked the delegates in a circular letter on their views. I am looking forward to the results and discussion in plenary this year.

At the same time we have to keep in mind that what we do does not lead to large amounts of food being wasted, since food security is becoming more and more a vital issue. It is important that the right balance is reached. Therefore, doing the right things requires a good judgment based on an underlying rationality including certain values and perspectives. Foresight helps us in sharpening our judgement.

What advice do you have for first time delegates?

It is of course an honour to be identified as a representative of their country at Codex. And I do hope a lot of first-time delegates will join this year. The best way to get to know Codex is by physically participating in a meeting, so I advise them to please do not hesitate to take the floor and give their views. For making this a little bit easier I encourage them to go to the short introduction on Sunday 14 April from 17:30 to 18:00 EST. My esteemed colleague Dr Astrid Bulder, who is also my assistant chair, will explain the working of CCCF-plenary and will of course answer questions.

Do you have any tips for all delegates attending CCCF17?

First of all I wish all delegates safe travels and I hope to see them all enjoying the beautiful country of Panama. And of course carefully read the work documents and prepare for good discussions, a lot of effort was put in there by the eWG chairs and the secretariats. And I always welcome a constructive spirit and concise interventions. So that we can achieve results by open discussions in a timely manner and the willingness to compromise. I am sure that the overall commitment to work on food safety will push us to the next level during the upcoming meeting. And of course do take the opportunity to meet and talk to other delegates at breaks and lunch, it is a wonderful chance to learn more about the world.


Read more

Meeting webpage including al working documents

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Photo © FAO/Codex Roberto Sciotti