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Codex News Item, 30 April 2017
Greg Read is First Assistant Secretary in the Exports Division of the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and also chair of the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS).
Q: How does CCFICS work to ensure fair trading practices and facilitate international trade in foodstuffs, protecting at the same time the health of consumers?
Read: CCFICs has developed a large number of guidelines in recent years. Importantly this committee commences developing and scoping the new work against two propositions. Firstly, the committee fully appreciates that Codex has a dual mandate i.e. safe food and fair practices in the food trade. Secondly the committee has developed a high level of maturity in recent years that is considerate and mindful to all delegation concerns and views, and is prepared to fully analyses all issues against the full mandate of Codex to clearly identify the root problem. Supporting this approach, the room has a nice balance in their avocation between both elements of the dual mandate. This important and healthy committee tension combined with a consensus approach helps establish the environment to ensure a sound guidelines are produced.
In reviewing the work currently before the committee, it would be my considered view that all items are balanced in their representation in regard to protecting the health of consumers – and ensuring fair practices in the food trade.
Highlights at CCFICS23 in Mexico
Q: What are the highlights for you at this year’s meeting?
Read: Three highlights come to mind. Firstly, co-hosting with Mexico. I highly value the collaborative relationships developed through this approach and the benefits ultimately derived by codex. Secondly, continuing the work of developing a monitoring guideline to help assess the effectiveness of the national food control systems. A lot of work has been invested in this document by the committee and we will be seeking to finalise it at this meeting. And thirdly, the deliberations that this committee will work through with regard to a range of new work proposals. All the discussion papers are of significant national and regulatory concern around the world and it’s an exciting opportunity for this committee to provide leadership in these very important areas.
Q: This year the meeting is in Mexico. What are the advantages of co-hosting?
Read: Co-hosting has many advantages. It facilitates greater access to codex and the committee for the co-hosting country. For Mexico it will allow many of its fantastic government employees to access a Codex committee, giving them insights of what Codex and CCFICs is about and hopefully providing the fillip to new codex participation
Co-hosting also allows me as a chair, greater insights as to the challenges faced by Mexican regulatory authorities and personally aids me in reframing my thinking into how to reset regulatory frameworks accordingly.
Co-hosting provides the committee direct access into Mexico which again will provide the opportunity for around 90 countries to take direct experiences learned and shared in Mexico back to their national governments
Finally, co-hosting ensures a global culture to Codex in that meetings are shared in countries other than the hosting country, and encourages other countries to also share in the experience of co hosting.
Food trade and food safety
Q: The majority of trade-limiting factors in developing countries relate to economics and lack of ad hoc infrastructure, while food safety remains mainly the responsibility of the consumers. Improving food safety, e.g. with Codex standards, however, may carry considerable costs and price food out of the reach of the poor. What actions can be taken to equalize costs-benefits?
Read: This is a good question but not sure I agree that consumers have the main responsibility for food safety, rather this responsibility clearly sits with food business operators with enforcement provided through government regulatory oversight. Notwithstanding this, the point I continually reflect upon in CCFICS and Codex generally is the importance of safe food to consumers which should not be compromised regardless of the economic standing of the country.
All consumers globally should be entitled to eat safe food. All committees and particularly CCFICS need to ensure that its standards are relevant to all economies, and particularly those that are developing, and the regulatory frameworks established can be easily transformed into an effective, simple to operate systems, that can work either in a country without much infrastructure as equally as it can work in a developed economy. Secondly as an economy develops then this rudimentary infrastructure can be built upon to ensure exports can commence as well as safe food can be imported.
Q: Food fraud is an emerging international issue that includes among the others adulteration and intentional substitution of food. Food fraud undermines consumer trust in their food and the food businesses and it has therefore a significant impact on the economy. What can Codex do?
Read: This item of discussion in CCFICS has attracted significant interest. Codex can do much in this area. Firstly, Codex can define clearly the problem, identify gaps in existing guidance, and schedule any necessary work. I am very much looking forward to the discussion on this subject matter by CCFICS and what next steps the committee considers should be taken.