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Canada’s new investment to support food safety and a reformed Codex Alimentarius

During the G20 Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting held in Berlin on January 22, the Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lawrence MacAulay, met with the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Dr. José Graziano da Silva, and announced a contribution of $1 million to support international bodies that develop the standards for food safety and plant and animal health. This new investment will go towards scientific and technical work of the Codex Alimentarius and the International Plant Protection Convention, supported by the FAO, and the World Organization for Animal Health in their efforts to promote a safe, fair and science-based trading environment. This will be added to Canada’s ongoing financial voluntary and membership contributions to the FAO to support its work to improve global food security, agriculture, fisheries, and forestry. 

The importance of the Codex Alimentarius relies on the crucial role it plays in enabling trade in agricultural products that benefits both producers and consumers. One of its responsibilities is to set standards in terms of international pesticide Maximum Residue limits (MRLs). Recognition of the importance of the Codex’s role in establishing MRLs has led to recent efforts by its members to improve its functioning and, since 2007, the time of the MRL elaboration process was reduced from over 10 years to approximately 2 years. Yet, it is still too much. 

Ideally Codex MRLs should be established soon after a new active ingredient or new use is approved by a national authority and in use on crops entering international commerce. For this reason, delays in the establishment of MRLs, or the failure to develop them, and the resulting lack of harmonisation affect badly market access, productivity and farmer livelihoods. MRLs are needed to make registered products useful to farmers who wish to trade, or must trade. If there is no Codex MRL in place, importing countries can apply zero or near-zero default tolerances for residues of products.

Financial contributions like the one offered by the Canadian government are very much needed to enable the Codex to perform its role effectively by addressing current capacity challenges and ensuring that adequate resources are available to supporting global food security. 

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