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Update on CODEX

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SUPPLEMENT ACTIVISTS ASSESS CODEX STRATEGIES GOING FORWARD

by James S. Turner, Esq., Board Chair, Citizens for Health

James S. Turner, Esq., Board Chair, Citizens for Health, is our delegate to the CODEX Commission meetings in Rome. He has been posting news on these meetings on  Citizens for Health's website.  The following article is the latest news.  For previous articles and more information on CODEX, visit Citizens for Health at: www.citizens.org/priorities/CODEX/romeupdate.cfm .

Rome, July 5, 2005: After the second day of CODEX Commission Rome meetings, in a room provided by the US CODEX delegation, fifteen North American and European advocates for the consumer right to dietary supplement choice met and explored several possible avenues of action to blunt the impact of the Commission's approval of restrictive vitamin and mineral trade guidelines. While the guidelines are the first step toward worldwide restriction of dietary supplement access, they have only indirect impact on national supplement regulation until adopted by national governments.

This reality, the advocates suggested, opens several opportunities for action to limit the damage the guidelines will cause.First, direct steps can be taken to limit the reach of the CODEX guidelines. At the national level, non-restrictive legal alternatives to the CODEX guidelines can be offered to countries, particularly those in Africa and Asia, establishing new laws on dietary supplements.

Several of the activists present agreed to begin development of a model international guideline supported by legal and scientific memoranda that allow it to meet international standards. Activists reported that a number of developing country representatives expressed private sentiments that were less than happy with the CODEX guidelines. A movement to spread an expansive vitamin-mineral guideline could blunt the limitations contained in the CODEX guidelines. International consumers and consumer groups could be mobilized, the activists believe, to advance such an effort.

Second, the structure of CODEX itself can be brought under scrutiny. The FAO and WHO governor generals' representatives to the CODEX meeting delivered surprisingly critical comments from the dais during a discussion of the CODEX budget. The FAO representative said the agency had provided CODEX with double its usual amount of money in the last few years, hoping to get a greater emphasis on problems of food and health. FAO is still waiting for a return on this money, its representative said. The WHO spokesperson urged CODEX participants to get more involved with the health initiatives of their home countries. There is, she said, virtually no visibility of or interest in CODEX shown at the World Health Assembly, the WHO governing body. If CODEX does not address the near absence of health considerations in its guidelines, its budget could begin to dry up.

Third, supplement industry leaders taking pleasure in the adoption of the guidelines may have joined a sinking ship. The FAO and WHO spokespersons not only urged more emphasis on health from CODEX and underscored growing budgetary pressure, but also spoke of CODEX as a child of the FAO/WHO parents. They sounded almost ready to cut it loose to survive on its own. A consultant's study of CODEX commissioned by the "parents" in 2001 raised a number of tough questions about the viability of CODEX and urged a set of serious reforms that CODEX is attempting to implement.

In this context, the successful effort of the supplement industry to eliminate Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) as the upper limits of available vitamins and minerals, to block the application of the precautionary principle (which prohibits the use of a substance until science proves it safe) to vitamins and minerals, and to get an international standard that treats vitamins and minerals essentially as foods rather than drugs is something of an achievement for supplement consumers. It does not, however, according to the activists, truly protect the rights, the desires and the health of dietary supplement consumers. The low upper limits and poor quality of product envisioned by the guidelines will undermine consumer health, according to the activists. Because it will take time to implement the guidelines, a major opportunity to change the direction of the guidelines exists. As one supplement business leader put it, "there are no CODEX numbers for anything in supplements at this time (and none likely for the next few years)." In the time it takes for the FAO/WHO project on nutrient risk assessment to develop an internationally agreed method to establish upper intake limits for vitamins and minerals, it may be possible, the activists think, to change the equation. The toxic chemical approach being taken by the risk assessment project is highly expensive and will discover few if any vitamin, mineral and other dietary supplement safety problems. At the same time, if successful, it will set back efforts to end hunger, eliminate nutrient deficiency and advance health.

In short, the effort to establish upper intake limits on nutrient supplements, activists believe, is scientifically inappropriate, excessively expensive and counterproductive to individual, national and WHO and FAO objectives. Therefore, it should be possible to mount a successful campaign directed at the industry, national governments and FAO/WHO leaders The goal of such a campaign would be the recognition that the inappropriate toxic-chemical review adopted in the new CODEX guidelines should be replaced with a nutrition-science program that will be less costly, more health producing and hunger eliminating and will create a robust, diverse international market for dietary supplements and dietary supplement health information. Such a program would bring income to business, health to consumers, budget surpluses to countries and fulfillment of FAO/WHO goals.

If CODEX were to embrace such an approach, it might become a leader in, rather than a barrier to, the use of new knowledge to end hunger and expand health. If CODEX fails to take on this task, others will, possibly with some better spent FAO/WHO money. The activists ended their three hour meeting in a much more optimistic frame of mind than they began.
 


 


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