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By Terry Bourke

APIA, Samoa (June 16, 2000 - Samoa Observer/PINA Nius Online)---With the Prime Minister's wish for Samoa to join the World Trade Organization in the very near future, the need for a local Codex Alimentarius (Food Safety Standards) Committee became apparent.

Not only this, but with the Health Department's renewed emphasis on preventative health as the cornerstone in its draft Corporate Plan, the importance of nutritious and safe foods is of importance. The Corporate Plan will set out how Samoa's health plan develops over the next three to five years.

Then we have the added problem of genetically modified (GM) foods and food products. While we cannot identify foods and food products entering Samoa as containing GM material because, at present, this information is not included on labels, the chances are very high indeed.

A three-day consultative workshop was held at the Health Department's Conference Room this week to:

~ learn more about the international Codex Commission and its work;

~ formulate and recommend a National Codex Committee to cabinet for endorsement;

~ look at the local situation in regard to food safety of both local and imported foods, food nutrition, genetically modified foods and food products, food and export produce inspection and related matters;

~ put forward recommendations for the development of a strategic plan, plan of action and the infrastructure to support a National Codex Committee.

About 30 people from government Ministries/Departments (Health, Trade (TCI), Agriculture) and the private sector and NGOs attended the workshop. These people were either in the food manufacturing industry, had responsibility for food safety and standards. There was a consumer representative present to look after the interests of this very important sector, which, in effect, covers every person in Samoa.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an international body, established in 1962, with 165 member countries. Samoa has been a member since the late 1980s. It came in to being when both the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization recognized the need for international food safety and hygiene standards to protect the health of consumers and to guide the world's growing food industry.

Codex achievements to date:

~ there are now available some 240 standards for individual food items;

~ 43 hygienic and technological codes of practices are available;

~ over 2,500 maximum residue levels for agricultural and veterinary chemicals set;

~ over 1,300 food additives and contaminants evaluated for safety.

The workshop included Ms. Ruth Lovisolo, Manager, Codex Australia, Mr. S. Rajasekar, Manager WTO/SPS, Codex New Zealand and Ms. Annamaria Bruno, FAO/SAPA Food and Nutrition Officer, who were the resource personnel. It was organized by Namulauulu Dr. Nuualofa Tuuau Potoi, Director, Public Health Division; Unasa Iulia Petelo, Assistant Secretary, TCI; and Seve Imo, Assistant Director, Ministry of Agriculture. Namulauulu is also the Codex contact for Samoa.

The interchange of information and ideas between the resource personnel and the workshop participants was very keen and instructive.

On Thursday, the makeup of a proposed National Codex Committee, its terms of reference, its aims and duties were drawn up. These will be refined by an interim committee that will draw up a proposal for consideration by the Director General of Health.

In closing the workshop, the Director General of Health, Taulealeausumai Dr. Eti Enosa, said:

"Food is the main cause of our health problems at the moment. We (Health) are attempting to alter the type of food people are eating, away from mutton flaps and turkey tails to more health giving items."

"In my youth, we only ate in the morning and at night, never lunch. We never took lunch with us to Samoa College," said Tauleausumai. "With our children, we know that the matters of good eating habits, hygiene, food quality and safety have to be addressed.

To achieve this, all must play a part -- the private and public sectors, NGOs, those involved in preparing food and the people in general."

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