October 2006 – Codex is not an easy subject to get to grips with. With over 20 committees meeting on an annual basis, and published reports comprising a total of over 1,400 pages in 2005 alone, most people are blissfully unaware of the extent to which its activities affect their health. Read on to discover the bigger picture behind the Codex Alimentarius Commission’s support for the “business with disease”.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) is the main global body that makes proposals to, and is consulted by, the Directors-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on all matters pertaining to the implementation of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. Established in 1963, the Commission’s main purposes are stated in its Procedural Manual as being: protecting the health of consumers; ensuring fair practices in the food trade; and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations. Unfortunately however, and as we shall see, its activities do not protect the health of consumers and the international food trade is anything but fair.
At the time of writing, the Commission presides over a total of 27 active subsidiary committees and ad hoc intergovernmental task forces, the main functions of which revolve around the drafting of standards, guidelines and other related texts for foods, including food supplements. Once completed these texts are presented to the Commission for final approval and adoption as new global standards.
Whilst the adoption by countries of the various standards and guidelines developed by Codex is theoretically optional, the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 1 January 1995 essentially changed their international status, in that they are now increasingly used by the WTO as the benchmark in the adjudication of international trade disputes involving foods. As such, the potential threat of becoming involved in – and losing – such a dispute now effectively makes the adoption of Codex guidelines and standards mandatory, in that it leaves WTO member countries little or no option but to comply with them. Given therefore that a total of 149 countries are currently members of the WTO, and also that Codex standards or guidelines now exist for virtually every food one can name, this effectively means that the activities of Codex now directly affect the vast majority of people on the planet.
In addition to dealing with ordinary foods, however, Codex also sets standards and guidelines for, amongst other things: vitamin and mineral food supplements; health claims; organic foods; genetically modified foods; food labeling; advertising; food additives and pesticide residues. Significantly, therefore, and as we shall see below, in all of these areas the evidence is now inescapable that Codex is increasingly putting economic interests – and particularly those of the pharmaceutical and chemical industries – before human health.
The Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements were adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission as a new global standard at its meeting in Rome, Italy, in July 2005. Drafted using the European Union’s restrictive Food Supplements Directive as a blueprint, the Guidelines mandate the setting of restrictive upper limits on the dosages of vitamins and minerals, and the prohibiting of claims that vitamin and mineral supplements are suitable for use in the prevention, alleviation, treatment or cure of disease. As a result, and bearing in mind the growing mountain of evidence demonstrating the impressive health improvements that can be achieved via the use of nutritional supplements, it can be seen that far from protecting the health of consumers, the global enforcement of these guidelines would ensure that the sale of curative, preventative, and therapeutic health products remains the exclusive province of the pharmaceutical industry.
There are already several Codex texts in existence that place restrictions upon the health benefits that can be attributed to food products, and perhaps the most significant of these is the Codex General Guidelines on Claims. Adopted in 1979, and revised in 1991, these guidelines are in some senses the very root of the Codex problem – in terms of placing severe restrictions upon natural forms of healthcare – in that they effectively seek to ensure that the only products that can make claims relating to the prevention, alleviation, treatment, and cure of disease are pharmaceutical drugs. Specifically, and amongst other things, the Codex General Guidelines on Claims prohibit all claims implying that a balanced diet or ordinary foods cannot supply adequate amounts of all nutrients, and all claims that food products are suitable for use in the prevention, alleviation, treatment or cure of diseases. As such, it can be seen that they essentially protect the patent on the pharmaceutical industry’s control of our healthcare systems.
Organic foods have been receiving increased attention from Codex in recent years, and it is now increasingly clear that the Codex Committee on Food Labelling is attempting to water down global organic standards to permit the use of substances such as sulphur dioxide, which can cause allergic reactions in some people; sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, which are potentially carcinogenic, and have been implicated in hyperactivity in children; and carrageenan, for which there is evidence that it is associated with the formation of ulcers in the intestines and cancerous tumors in the gut. Worse still, however, the Codex Alimentarius Commission recently gave the go-ahead for work to begin on the inclusion of ethylene in the Codex Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organically Produced Foods. Ethylene is used to artificially induce fruits and vegetables to ripen whilst they are in transit, and as such its approval for use on organic foods would represent a disturbing step towards WTO-enforced acceptance of the same dubious and unnatural agricultural practices that non-organic foods are already subject to.
Why does Codex want to water down organic standards in this way? On a basic level it is simply because organic foods fetch higher prices than ordinary, non-organic, foods, and that as such the large non-organic food producers see an easy opportunity to break into the market for organic foods and make larger profits. On a deeper level, however, organic foods promote better health than non-organic foods, by virtue of the fact that they contain higher levels of micronutrients. In addition, of course, organic foods don’t contain pesticides, residues of veterinary drugs or genetically-modified organisms either. Bearing in mind therefore that good health is not in the interests of the “business with disease”, this ultimately makes the increasing demand for organic foods a threat to the pharmaceutical and chemical industries; not only because organic foods promote good health, however, but also because they result in a lower demand for pesticides, veterinary drugs and GM foods – and thus in lower profits.
Moreover, and unlike genetically-modified seeds, organic seeds cannot be patented. As such, given that some of the major players in the pharmaceutical and chemical industry, such as Bayer and BASF, are also major players in the biotech industry, it can easily be seen that the rising popularity of non-patentable organic foods is in fact a serious and growing threat to the profits of the pharmaceutical industry’s “business with disease”.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted its first guidelines and principles for genetically-modified (GM) foods in 2003. These texts subsequently became instrumental in the United States, Canada and Argentina launching, and winning, a trade dispute at the WTO against the European Union (EU), where it was argued that the EU had been applying a moratorium on the approval and importation of foods containing GM material.
Further guidelines and standards for GM foods are now in the process of being drafted by Codex. The eventual adoption of these texts will further contribute to making the approval, and importation, of GM foods that comply with them mandatory for all WTO member countries. Crucially, therefore, the United States, Canada and Argentina are also pushing for there to be no requirement for manufacturers or exporters of GM foods to disclose the presence of genetically modified organisms on their product labelling. This is exactly what the big GM food manufacturers want, of course, as they have long realized that growing numbers of people are opposed to GM food products, and moreover that they will not be able to change public opinion about these products anytime soon.
Unlike the seeds for regular foods, the seeds for GM foods can be patented. This, essentially, is the real key to why biotech companies are so desperate for these foods to be forced onto world markets, as the potential long-term profits are so colossal as to compare quite favorably with the market in pharmaceutical drugs. Given therefore that some of the major players in the pharmaceutical industry, such as Bayer and BASF, are also major players in the biotech industry, it can be seen that the pharmaceutical industry is once again positioning itself as a key beneficiary at Codex.
As such – so far as the pharmaceutical industry is concerned – the only products that are worth producing are those that are patentable. Because of this, the rise in the popularity of food supplements, natural health practices and even organic food represents a serious threat to the pharmaceutical industry. The financial interest groups behind the Codex Alimentarius Commission know this only too well, of course, and as such are now engaged in a desperate struggle to maintain their monopoly upon the healthcare industry and expand into GM food production.
A specific Codex committee to deal with food labeling issues, the Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL), has been in existence since 1965. The issue of food labelling is particularly crucial to the further spreading of life-saving natural health information, as restrictions upon the written content of food labels contribute, along with those on advertising, to preventing nutritional supplement manufacturers from informing people of the proven benefits of dietary supplementation. Crucially, therefore, CCFL has refused to acknowledge the role of optimum nutrition in the prevention, alleviation, treatment and cure of disease, and, as such, rather than protecting the health of consumers, can be seen to be acting in the interests of the pharmaceutical industry’s “business with disease”.
Arguments as to how or whether Codex should deal with advertising issues have been going on since at least 1972.
These arguments continued at the May 2006 CCFL meeting in Ottawa, where they centred around whether or not work on a definition for advertising should be initiated, and if it should, where (i.e. within which Codex text) such a definition should be placed. After considerable discussion regarding this issue CCFL decided that work on a definition for advertising should indeed be initiated.
From a natural health perspective, however, the definition proposed is far from satisfactory:
“Advertising: any representation to the public, by any means other than a label, that is intended or is likely to influence and shape attitude, beliefs and behaviours in order to promote directly or indirectly the sale of the food.”
The wording of this proposed definition raises several key questions.
For example, as well as its potential to result in the prohibition of advertising legitimate, published, peer-reviewed scientific research papers, might it also inhibit non-profit natural health advocacy organizations from influencing and shaping attitude, beliefs and behaviours regarding the sale of nutritional supplements?
Similarly, could any restrictions on advertising that are based upon this definition be said to contravene the right to freedom of opinion and expression and/or the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers (both of which are enshrined in Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights)?
Regardless however, given that the pharmaceutical industry’s “business with disease” depends for its survival upon the restriction of any and all means by which consumers can obtain natural health information, potential restrictions on advertising are clearly now a key issue at Codex.
Codex has a specific committee that deals with the safety of food additives, one of the main functions of which is to establish their maximum permitted levels. In all, the Codex Food Additive Index currently lists a total of around 300 individual additives – both synthetic and natural – that it permits to be used in foods.
However, whilst it may be the case that some artificial additives are essentially safe when consumed in small amounts and in isolation from one another, the reality is that no substantive consideration has been given by Codex to the fact that such chemicals are consumed not in isolation, but in tandem with each other. As such, and to the benefit of their manufacturers, the cumulative long-term effect that the consumption of multiple patented chemicals and artificial additives has on the health of consumers is largely being ignored.
Revealingly, therefore, many artificial additives are being manufactured by some of the same pharmaceutical and chemical companies that would like to ban vitamin supplements and force GM foods onto our dinner plates. And, as is similarly the case with pharmaceutical drugs and GM seeds, the main reason why many of these substances exist is because they can be patented – and patents equal higher profits.
The Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues was formed in 1966, and is responsible for setting the maximum limits for pesticide residues in specific food items or in groups of food. Once again, however, the safety or otherwise of each individual pesticide is generally examined in isolation, and the long-term effect that their collective presence might have upon the body is mostly ignored. Given therefore that many of these dangerous chemicals are manufactured by pharmaceutical and chemical companies, it is not difficult to imagine that their widespread usage may be seen by these industries as having a dual financial benefit, in that they potentially increase the size of the market for – and hence the profits to be made from – the patented drugs used as treatments for any diseases that their long-term consumption might cause.
Codex is not just about nutritional supplements. In fact, it is the primary political battlefield where the war is being waged about who will regulate and control the global food supply from farm to fork. This ‘war’ is being waged by an increasingly tangled web of global authorities, big business and financial interests, and, as such, trade and profit are its prime goals – not human health.
Current indications suggest that the long-term financial winners in the battle to gain control over the world’s food supply are likely to be the pharmaceutical and chemical industries; especially so given that the adoption of still further Codex guidelines for foods derived from biotechnology now seems almost inevitable. As a result, our freedom of choice, our future health and the environment itself are all now clearly at risk.
Good nutrition and optimum health threaten the pharmaceutical industry’s “business with disease” because they reduce the size of the marketplace for synthetic drugs. However, food that is free of pesticide residues, artificial additives and other contaminants can, by definition, only come about as a result of a lower global usage, or ideally the entire elimination, of these chemicals. This, of course, would not be in the financial interests of the pharmaceutical and chemical companies that manufacture such substances, as it would clearly result in lower profits, better health for entire populations, and a consequent reduction in the use of synthetic drugs.
In conclusion therefore, whilst it may have been somewhat “out of the limelight” recently, the Codex Alimentarius Commission’s support for the “business with disease” has continued unabated, and the wide scope of its activities makes it a significant danger to the future health of all humanity.
Do we want to see a world where our access to safe, nutritious foods and effective dietary supplements is restricted and controlled by pharmaceutical and chemical interests? If not then we must act now, before it’s too late.