While all of the guests on the GFSI Experts Series hold at least one prestigious title, Steve Wearne has two; he is Vice-Chair at the Codex Alimentarius Commission and Director of Science at the UK FSA. His joint responsibility gives him a uniquely informed perspective on the importance of one of GFSI’s core missions: facilitating intergovernmental collaboration to promote food safety. A biochemist by training, he understands both the technical details and the global repercussions of pressing issues like antimicrobial resistance and food hygiene.
As part of his role as Vice-Chair, Steve observes and participates in the work of many of Codex’s committees, which include groups focused on commodities, general subject committees and ad hoc intergovernmental task forces. Anne Gerardi, Senior Manager at the Global Food Safety Initiative, asked him for an update on these committees’ achievements and their strategy for advancing mandates in the future. Watch him answer these questions on today’s episode, or read the transcript below.
Anne Gerardi: Can you please introduce yourself and your role in the UK and at Codex?
Steve Wearne: More than happy to. My name’s Steve Wearne. I’m Director of Science at the Food Standards Agency in the UK, but I’m also one of the three Vice Chairs of Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is the global food standards setting body. This is actually my first time at GFSI Conference. It’s very exciting — though the UK government sent a delegation in each of the past four years. It’s a great place to come together and hear what the current thinking is.
Anne: What have you been engaged in at Codex this past year?
Steve: In Codex, I’m one of the three Vice Chairs selected by the 188 member countries of the organisation. Part of my role is to advocate for the use of Codex standards, and it’s been really great talking to people here this week. But one of the other parts of my Codex role is leading the development of Codex strategy; our next strategy for 2020 to 2025.
Anne: What are some major elements of this strategy?
Steve: The strategy is the way we set out how we’re going to advance the mandate of Codex, which is to protect consumer health and also to promote fair practices. We have five key goals in the new strategy. The first one is about making sure we’re responsive to member country needs. The second one is about making sure that our standards continue to be based on science and sound risk analysis. Jumping forward, the fourth one is about making sure that we enable and facilitate all member countries to be able to work in Codex, and finally that we have effective systems.
I missed out the third one because that’s the new one, which is really exciting. The new strategic goal for the next six years will be to deliver impact through the recognition and use of Codex standards. This is the first time that Codex will have had a goal which relates to not just the adoption of Codex standards by national authorities, but also to the use of Codex standards by the food trade and other actors. These are non-legislative benchmarks. I think there are some really great opportunities there. Of course, the GFSI benchmark requirements already reference Codex standards, so that gives us a great start.
Anne: Do you see opportunities for GFSI and Codex to collaborate on this implementation strategy point?
Steve: I think there is that particular opportunity as we look to further develop guidelines for national governments to use data from third party assurance programmes to support delivery of their national food control system objectives. There’s a great opportunity to work together; we have a shared objective. We both want to create a virtuous cycle where Codex facilitates and celebrates the use of our standards, those non-legislative benchmarks, where national administrations then value and have confidence in the data from third-party assurance programmes and how they can be used.
Together, we optimise the utilisation of resources to protect consumers. But I think it goes much more widely than that, as well. If you look across the range of active Codex work, from food hygiene to countering antimicrobial resistance, wherever there’s a food safety element, I think there’s the potential for Codex and GFSI to work together.
Anne: Is antimicrobial resistance (AMR) a big objective for Codex in 2019?
Steve: It is. This is something that Codex decided to create a time-limited task force to consider in 2017. I had the great honour to chair the physical working group in London the winter before, which defined the scope of the work that’s needed. We’re working on two things: the revision of the Code of Practice on managing antimicrobial resistance throughout the whole food chain, and also, for the first time, trying to develop some integrated guidelines for AMR surveillance.
Both of those are really testing pieces of work, because the state of knowledge is incomplete. We need to understand how much science there is that we can use and how much practical guidance we can give. I really hope that we can move forward and make some real progress in this coming year, because time is short and we all know that there’s a global objective of the United Nations and of FAO, WHO and OIE. We need to do something that’s really effective within Codex.
Anne: Thank you very much.
Steve: Thank you.
To learn more about Codex, watch our previous episode with Guilherme da Costa, Chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and keep an eye out for an upcoming interview with Fran Freeman, Chairperson of the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS).
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