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Observing Codex / webinar highlights strong commitment of Observers to Codex standard setting


A webinar held on 20 October 2021 demonstrated to an online audience of over 150 how Codex Observers can contribute to the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Hosted by the Codex Secretariat as part of a series of live online events, the webinar was an opportunity for a wide variety of observer organizations to explain and discuss how they contribute to Codex work.

The 240 Observers in Codex are made up of UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations (from consumer groups to industry associations). This broad base, according to Codex Secretary Tom Heilandt is what makes their presence so interesting. “They provide a lot of expertise and data” necessary for standard development and play a vital role in furthering the objectives of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme of which the Codex Alimentarius Commission is the central part.

Alison Fleet from UNICEF said that in Codex in developing a guideline for ready-to-use therapeutic foods - critical in their work for combatting malnutrition in children - they had been able to “create a fantastic collaboration with the Member States who can bring other expertise that UNICEF doesn’t have”. One lesson learnt in bringing work to Codex was understanding how specific committees work. “I had to learn very quickly … because all the work is actually done outside the plenary,” she said.

We could close if Codex didn’t exist

“You could probably argue that we could close the association if Codex didn’t exist. “ said Jean Christophe Kremer of the International Special Dietary Foods Industries. As manufacturers, aiming to make high quality products with the best science available is something that “evolves over time and requires up-to-date Codex Standards,” he said.

A gold standard

“We applaud the Codex Alimentarius because we see it as a gold standard for multi-stakeholder participation … and it really serves as a model,” said Maia Jack of the International Council of Beverages Associations. “We see Codex providing a level playing field for rules around internationally traded foods, precisely because it's science based and consensus based.”

“The International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations was created because of Codex,” said Simon Pettman. “We see ourselves as people who are also … promoting the value of the [Codex] principles, but also the concept, the idea that, actually, the world is a better place if we can all build these global standards around food and help to implement them,” he said.

Helen Keller International is an observer organization coming from civil society. “And so, our very important interest … is making sure that the public health mandate of Codex is really central and that it's not only pushed aside by … trade and industry interests in Codex,” said Jane Badham.

Scott Tips represents the National Health Federation (NHF) and talked of the success of the virtual meetings run by the Codex Secretariat and how they have allowed organizations such as NHF to take part more frequently. Looking ahead however he warned: “What we really miss are the handshakes and the being able to judge the body language and the eye contact and all that you get from in-person meetings. We're kind of riding on the in-person meetings that we've had in the past … but what happens when the personnel changes, what happens when memories fade?”

A unique point of view

Emilio Esteban, United States, is the Chairperson of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene and spoke of the contribution he sees from observers in his committee. “They can add to the discussion and change the tone of the argument, during the meeting by making positive interventions. They can help you mediate through a difficult part of the discussion and so they bring tremendous value … and a unique point of view that is not country specific,” he said.

Hakim Mufumbiro, Regional Coordinator for the Codex African region emphasized the need to engage with observers regionally. “The objectives under Goal 3 of the Codex Strategic Plan [Increase impact through the recognition and use of Codex standards] will be realized fully with increased contribution from the observers,” he said.


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