After two years of Zoom meetings in place of live, in-person meetings, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) finally met in-person once again in Rome, Italy during the week of November 21, 2022. Well, not quite. In deference to the on-going COVID-19 fear-mongering, it was actually a “hybrid” meeting where delegates could attend either in-person or by Zoom. But social distancing was to be enforced in the FAO main room where the meeting was to take place, which meant that all of the INGOs (such as the National Health Federation) would have to be seated in a separate, adjacent room where they would participate via a Zoom connection. So, for NHF the choice was clear – save the wear-and-tear, and expense, of travel and attend instead from the relative comfort of a home office.
On Monday morning, November 21st, the CAC Chairman, Steve Wearne, opened the meeting with about 340 participants attending either in person or online. There were the usual obligatory opening speeches extolling the many great deeds of Codex, with hearty pats on the back all around, and announcing plans for celebrating Codex’s 60th anniversary in 2023, but the Chairman quickly got down to business.
Malnourished Third-World Children
One of Codex’s noble goals is to establish guidelines for healthy Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF), which are used to feed severely malnourished children (usually under the age of five). RUTF are energy-dense, micronutrient-enriched pastes (similar in consistency to peanut butter) that are nutritionally similar to the traditional milk-based diet used in inpatient therapeutic feeding programs. Often, RUTF consist of peanuts, oil, sugar, and milk powder. Some of the ingredients are not what we would consider healthy (certain oils and sugar), but the RUTF do give immediate sustenance to children who might otherwise die.
Codex observer-delegate UNICEF, a keen proponent of RUTF, has stated that, “[p]roperly used, RUTF is safe, cost effective, and has saved hundreds of thousands of children’s lives in recent years. Severe acute malnutrition is a major killer of children under five, accounting for approximately 1 million deaths annually. Around 20 million children worldwide are estimated to be suffering from this condition, of which only approximately 10-15 per cent currently receive treatment using RUTF.” Codex wants to expand the availability of RUTF by creating an internationally accepted guideline; and this guideline was adopted at the final Step 8 at this meeting.
But, before that happened, I expressed NHF’s concern to the Commission over the high ratio of calcium to magnesium (55 mg to 15), reminding everyone that extensive science supported higher levels than those present in RUTF and that calcium and magnesium are twin minerals, and their intake ratio is important nutritionally. In fact, the paleolithic diet typically had a ratio of calcium to magnesium of 1:1, while the RUTF ratio was 4 or 5:1!
In a last-ditch effort, I then proposed that the levels for magnesium be doubled so that they would at least be closer to a proper ratio with calcium. But my arguments fell on deaf ears, unsupported by any member states, and the magnesium levels in the RUTF guidelines were left unchanged, to the harm of malnourished children everywhere.