Codex Alimentarius: Corporations Forge Global Food Rules
Written by the National Health Federation
Published: July 2007
Rome – 4th of July 2007. Americans are celebrating this day as a special holiday signifying freedom and independence. But it is a work-day here in Rome at FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters, where the Codex Commission is having its week-long yearly general meeting. Freedom and independence are not really high on the agenda at Codex – rather the contrary, as more and more rules are passed that curb individual choice but allow corporations to do what they do best – dominate markets.
Codex Alimentarius, the food rule-making body of the United Nations has invited delegates from all countries to the thirtieth session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Roman headquarters of FAO is within a stone’s throw of the Baths of Caracalla on one side and the oval arena of the Circus Maximus on the other, just down the road from the Colosseum and the Forum Romanum, the old cultural and administrative center of the city in its heyday of empire two millennia ago. What better place than this to forge the laws for a coming corporate empire…
The 30th Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting
The week-long meeting in Rome started Monday 2 July and is scheduled to end Friday or Saturday, leaving time for sight-seeing, but temperatures have already risen into the forbidding range beyond the 30 degree C mark – 86 degrees + in Fahrenheit, spoiling much of the fun of daytime excursions. But then – most of the action is in the evenings – in air conditioned hotels, good restaurants and favorite night spots.
The meeting’s atmosphere is business-like, as you would expect from a world legislative body engaged in making the food laws for future humanity. And laws they are, even though the official word is that regulations and guidelines passed by Codex are ‘voluntary’ for the member nations. It is the World Trade Organization that provides the enforcement arm for those Codex rules, using them as the standard by which to adjudicate trade disputes. In consequence, no country can afford to contravene these rules, if it does not wish to risk heavy sanctions imposed as a penalty after a trade dispute.
Following this thought back to its logical conclusion, we arrive at a huge question, but one that is normally never asked: Who gave national ministry of health officials the authorization to commit their country to international laws that in time will bind their country without having been examined, much less approved, by national legislative assemblies?
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Industry influence on Codex
For all intents and purposes, Codex Alimentarius unites over 150 accredited industry and other interest groups with an even larger number of national health authorities to make the rules for a globalized society where corporations have free reign and what they like to call a “level playing field”. But the playing field they construct is so restricted by red tape and the level parts are so completely occupied by corporate interedsts that anything smaller than a multinational falls off the edges into commercial insignificance.
While at the Commission meeting, the presence of industry is somewhat muted, most of what is approved in the yearly plenary session has been discussed and elaborated in committee meetings during the last twelve months. It is there – at the level of individual committees and in the national Codex ‘delegations’ to those committees that industry has inordinate influence. No wonder that regulations that get approved set allowed levels of contamination, rather than eliminating the use of harmful substances in agriculture and food preparation. Actual examples from this year’s crop of proposals, all of them passed without much discussion, are:
“Maximum Levels for Tin in Canned Foods and in Canned Beverages”
“Proposed draft Maximum Residue Limits for Pesticides”
“Draft MRLs [Maximum Residue Limits] for Bovine Somatotropin”
Somatotropin of course is growth hormone, including Monsanto’s infamous rBGH, the synthetic “recombinant bovine growth hormone” that has farmers in the US scrambling to label their milk as “hormone free” because consumers do not want to drink the milk flowing from the often inflamed udders of cows treated with the hormone. Monsanto can be content – in the future it will be sufficient to stay within the limits of ‘allowed’ contamination and no country will be able to refuse the milk from growth hormone treated cows without risking trade sanctions.
Another facet of this game of “stealth legislation” are genetically modified foods. They are made legally acceptable and countries are actually forced to allow them for cultivation and in foods, after the international body – Codex Alimentarius – has made regulations defining the circumstances and criteria for their evaluation. Practically, the concept of ‘substantial equivalence’ of genetically modified varieties with those we have grown for millennia, dumps the burden of proof that GM varieties are a danger to our health on the consuming public and a handful of honest but underfunded scientists. Jeffrey Smith, the author of the book Seeds of Deception explains in this article why GM crops should never have been approved and how the scam of ‘substantial equivalence’ works to level the playing field for the corporations.
Codex targets food supplements
This year’s plenary session of the Codex Commission does not deal with supplements. The regulations for those nutrient-containing products were adopted two years ago, on 4 July 2005. Nevertheless, Scott Tips of the National Health Federation is keeping a watchful eye on the meeting to make sure nothing sneaks by unrecorded.
Scott Tips of the NHF at Codex Commission meeting
Food supplements have been a target for Codex since 1994, when the Germans, who have traditionally hosted the Codex Nutrition Committee’s meetings, made a proposal to regulate food supplements in a way that would protect the interests of pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical producers of course are intent on selling more and more of their drugs. Concentrated nutrients that keep people healthy are a definite threat to the expansion of that particular drug market. Needless to say that my challenge to the German proposal , written in 1996, was not taken into consideration when, during these intervening years, the Germans and the European Commission played tag team to get the Codex food supplement regulations passed despite all opposition.
Those Codex supplement rules , in their substance if not in wording, are eerily similar to the European food supplements directive , or should we say that the European food supplements directive turned out very similar to the original German proposal to control supplements aired first in that Codex Nutrition Committee meeting in 1994. At the time, that Codex proposal was almost considered a joke: “what do those people know about supplements?” was the question often asked in industry circles. Not much, we can say now, but enough to know that nutrients constitute a dire threat to a pharmaceutical business model that depends on illness, not on health, for its humongous profits.
A reaction to this corporate push to eliminate natural health care options in favor of pharmaceutical medicine, is a recently published book titled Codex Alimentarius – Global Food Imperialism. The book collects and summarizes a decade of Codex meetings and deliberations that touch on issues of freedom of choice and the availability of information about health and nutrition. What emerges is an ugly picture of an international policy setting body that has been set up and is being largely controlled by food, agriculture and pharmaceutical multinationals doing everything possible to suppress free choice in matters of nutrition.
Pressure inevitably creates counter-pressure, and so a natural health resistance movement is forming against the Codex agenda of controlled healthcare, where nutrition and other natural health options are conspicuously absent. The serious nature of the threat to human health of Codex Alimentarius and the corporate agenda hiding behind it only becomes apparent when examining the international connections that form a tightly knit web of corporate interests and official health policy making.
After a transatlantic summit that brought agreements for EU/US economic cooperation, the FDA and the European Food Safety Agency have announced that they will initiate closer co-operation on food safety issues. In the US, the FDA has announced its final rule on “Current Good Manufacturing Practice” for food supplements, openly acknowledging that some manufacturers of supplements will find the compliance costs too high and will have to close shop. Canada has tightened its regulations for natural health products and the Kiwis are resisting the extension of Australian medicines regulations to New Zealand by way of the creation of a Trans-Tasman health products agency, while Europe has re-vamped its laws on vitamins, herbs, and medicines, always leading to tighter control of the natural health options that could be of competition to pharma’s drugs. South Africa’s pharma-inspired law proposal was however nixed by health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Those legislative moves in major countries and regions and the contemporaneous efforts of Codex Alimentarius are no mere coincidence. Someone has to be pushing very hard to limit competition to pharmaceutical drugs. Only the makers of those drugs have the motive, the financial resources and the international clout to do so.
To point the researchers among you in the right direction, I have compiled a time line of articles that document and comment on the discussions in Codex Alimentarius about food supplements. These nutrient-dense foods have healthy properties and therefore preventive and even curative effects. Although those health effects are widely recognized, corporate and regulatory collusion has made it practically impossible to inform people, without risking the removal of the ‘offending’ product from the market as an ‘unauthorized medicine’. And in the future we see possible restrictions on dosage – all for the safety of the consumer of course.
1996: my first brush with Codex
November 2002: meeting of Codex Nutrition Committee in Berlin
August 2003: a brief introduction to Codex
November 2003: the Codex Nutrition Committee meets in Bonn, the former German capital
March 2004: Codex and nutrients – articles by Paul Taylor
The National Health Federation’s Proposals for Nutrient Reference Values
May 2004: Codex Labeling Committee meets in Montreal, Canada
June/July 2004: Codex Alimentarius Commission meets in Geneva, Switzerland
November 2004: Codex Nutrition Committee meets in Bonn, Germany
December 2004: WHO/FAO discusses “nutrient risk assessment”
April 2005: European laws and Codex – how they relate
May 2005: Codex and the restrictive Trans-Tasman proposals – by Eve Hillary
June/July 2005: Codex Commission approves controversial vitamin guideline
October/November 2005: Codex Nutrition Committee meets again
January 2006: Commentary: Not all Codex experts are equal
February 2006: Comment on Codex inspired “risk assessment” for nutrients
April 2006: Codex Global Strategy
May 2006: Food Labeling Committee
November 2006: Codex Nutrition Committee meets – this time in Thailand
Naturally incomplete as it must be, this is my timeline of Codex events up to this present meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. It is not easy to get into this somewhat dry and legalistic stuff of international legislation, but there it is – a window on the ongoing battle for preserving our health options. Granted, the odds seem overwhelming, the juggernaut targeting health and nutrition, of which Codex is only a part, is thundering ahead. But the force is with those who are pure at heart and there is always hope. So let’s end this article on a positive note.
When visiting the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Roman headquarters for this meeting of the Codex Commission, I came across a publication that caught my eyes:
Improving nutrition through home gardening
A training package for preparing field workers in Southeast Asia to promote home gardening as a way to feed families and have food left over to sell. Perhaps, little by little, the idea is making headway that individual initiative and real food are important ingredients in providing economic and food security. I was happy to see this apparent turn from the “green revolution” of chemical-intensive agriculture into something that – at least at the surface – resembles permaculture and organic farming more than the corporate controlled industrial variety, which is heavy in synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified varieties of mostly “cash crops”.
If the Food and Agricultural Organization can come around to promoting distributed farming for real foods that protects the soil and the environment, perhaps Codex Alimentarius can come around to a view of nutrition that recognizes the health effects of nutrients and allows their distribution and commerce – rather than restricting it for the benefit of Big Pharma.
There may be hope after all!
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