The world is so interlinked that we often say we are living in a global village. As a result what happens in one country has effects on other countries. As one of the items that are commonly traded globally, food is regulated to ensure it is fit for human consumption.
The Eritrean government, in collaboration with Codex Alimentarius, has recognized the issue’s importance and organized a workshop on the improvement of Eritrean National codex issues and food quality and control on December 6, 2019. The workshop, which was held at the Confederation of Eritrean Workers’ hall, was officially opened by Mr. Arefaine Berhe, Minister of Agriculture. In his opening address, Mr. Arefaine said, “Food safety is the kernel of life and healthy society; that is why the improvement of food safety and quality control is worth an immediate attention”.
Professor Martin Epafrar Kimanya, a senior advisor of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), presented an overview of Codex Alimentarius commission and national food safety and quality control system.
Codex Alimentarius is an intergovernmental organization established in 1962 by the joint efforts of FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO). It has 188 member states, observer organizations, observer press and audience.
According to Professor Martin, the objectives of Codex Alimentarius are broadly categorized into two — protecting the health of consumers and ensuring fair food trade practices. Codex Alimentarius assesses the hygienic and safety levels of all human and animal food products including food additives, pesticides and common food products such as baby formulas, processed foods, mineral water and fruit juices. In addition, it collaborates with the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the fair food trade practices. Food products are inspected and certified before distribution. It is in this process of scientific inspection that the absence of any acute or chronic health hazards is guaranteed.
Eritrea became a member of Codex Alimentarius in 1996 but it was in 2004 that it started to get involved. The Ministry of Agriculture was appointed as the national codex contact point in 2004. That same year, the National Codex Committee was established and its members were drawn from four ministries — Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Marine Resources and Ministry of Trade and Industry, represented by Eritrean Standard Institute.
Mr. Tekleab Msghna, Director General of the Regulatory Services Department in the Ministry of Agriculture, said that the task of the food control systems in Eritrea have not been so active lately but the ultimate task of the contact point is to do better and participate more. The present workshop, for example, has been a step in that direction.
The cause for Eritrea’s inactivity such as lack of proper organization was discussed and the consultant, prof. Martin presented his findings and gave recommendations of the interventions to strengthen Eritrea’s food control system. Codex Alimentarius’s impact is less without the fundamental contribution of the member governments. To enforce the food legal framework and standards and to protect the health of consumers and citizens, the government plays a vital role.
In addition, Mr. Saeed Abubaker, a representative of FAO in Eritrea, pointed out that the advancement and implementation of food quality and standard is one of the most important aspects of food safety and that FAO shall provide full support to ensure the smooth functioning of the organization. Mr. Saeed added that the basics for setting food legal frameworks are the availability of strong technical and institutional capacities, which are currently lacking in Eritrea.
Participants at the workshop discussed the major benefits of Codex Alimentarius, the challenges Eritrea faces and the solutions. Their recommendations include making advocacy campaigns for the transformation of the food control management, inspection and laboratory services; drafting national food legal framework and national food control management; carrying out food Inspection and giving laboratory services; providing information, communication and education on food safety and quality; strengthening the National Codex Contact Point and improving the structure and working conditions of the National Codex Committee; seeking political and economic support from policy and decision-makers for food control system and developing a coordinating plan; increasing awareness and knowledge on Codex matters, among food standards committees; and establishing a mechanism for data generation and risk assessment.
The outcome of the discussions and recommendations will serve as an important source of information to further enrich the Consultant’s findings and recommendations.
At the end of the workshop, recommendations to strengthen the National Codex Contact Point (NCCP) and NCC were given. The recommended actions include the inclusion of relevant institutions to broaden effect, reorganization of the existing NCC and appointing experts in the field of food science and related fields and equipping the NCC with all the vital personnel, office space and giving out additional courses.
Food industries all over the world have varying standards and quality of products and they are labeled and exported in varying standards. As Mr. Saeed put it, the availability of a wide variety of imported food makes the harmful, unsafe and improperly labeled food accessible unless safety measures are taken. In such an environment, Eritrea needs to continue making efforts to strengthen its institutions with regard to maintaining food quality and standards to safeguard its citizens’ health and well-being.