14 February 2022, Bridgetown, Barbados – Earlier this month, the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) was granted Observer Status in the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). The CAC is the global inter-governmental body which has 188 member countries, jointly governed by FAO and WHO, that establishes the international standards in food safety and quality which serve as benchmarks in international trade. The standard- development work of the organization is carried out across various technical committees. The HCC is a regional alliance of civil society organizations working towards the prevention and control of chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
Maisha Hutton, Executive Director at the HCC noted that the Codex Committees of greatest interest to HCC at the moment are the two dealing with Nutrition and Labelling, respectively. She noted that the CAC had recently adopted Guidelines on Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling (FOPNL) at its last session in October 2021. She explained that this was an important development given that Caribbean countries voted last year on a regional standard for the labelling of pre-packaged foods. These included high-in black octagonal front of package nutrition warning labels to help consumers to easily, correctly and quickly identify foods high in sugars, fats and sodium/salt – nutrients which when consumed in excess are linked to obesity and NCDs. The CODEX FOPNL guidelines will assist countries including those in the Caribbean as they seek to implement the most effective front of package labelling schemes for their countries. While this work has been complete, there are a number of other issues currently under discussion in Codex that are of importance to the nutrition community in the Caribbean. These include, among other things, discussions on trans-fatty acids and food-labelling exemptions for emergencies.
Sir Trevor Hassell, President of the HCC underlined that his organization would be reaching out to the countries of the Caribbean, who are all members of the CAC, to discuss their priorities and determine how HCC could best support their effective participation in the work of the relevant technical Codex Committees. He stated, “CARICOM health leadership has prioritised action on the elimination of trans fats in the food supply as part of their broader agenda on tackling unhealthy diets. The HCC will seek to leverage opportunities at CODEX to influence global TFA guidance while supporting TFA elimination work at the regional level”.
Meanwhile, Renata Clarke, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean welcomed the news of HCC’s observer status. She stated, “As major food importers, the countries of the Caribbean have a strong and direct interest in influencing the rules that govern the quality and safety of foods traded internationally. The participation of HCC in the deliberations of the Codex Alimentarius Commissions on nutritional quality and labelling will facilitate a strong Caribbean voice in related standard setting”.
She further added that FAO will continue to seek to establish partnerships with stakeholders aimed at educating the public on the benefits of adopting a healthier lifestyle and reducing the high rate of non-communicable diseases in the Caribbean.