South Africa breaks ranks at Codex Nutrition Committee
The discussions around a proposed guideline for food supplements by the Committee for Nutrition and special dietary foods of the international standard setting body called Codex Alimentarius, have taken a most interesting turn this year.
Population reference intakes (RDAs) were abandoned as a measure for determining upper level dosages of vitamins and minerals in supplements, substituted by scientific risk analysis as the method of choice for assuring protection of consumer health.
The change seems to have been brought about principally by continued pressure of consumer avocacy groups for free access to vital nutrients (The National Health Federation, Friends of Freedom, La Leva di Archimede, HONERI, and many others) as well as to protests against Codex organized by Dr. Mathias Rath, the proponent of a new vision for health, cellular medicine.
Codex Nutrition Committee meets in Bonn
3 November 2003
SOUTH AFRICA JOLTS THE MEETING
In what is widely seen as a surprising development, South Africa has pushed the discussion on a new guideline for supplements in this year's meeting of the Codex Nutrition Committee (CCNFSDU) a long way towards acceptance of nutrition's vital role in health and disease prevention.
The South African proposal includes reference to deficiency diseases, but it goes beyond that, stating that "[b]ecause foods contain many substances that promote health and prevent chronic diseases, people should therefore be encouraged to select a healthy diet and supplement this diet with those nutrients for which the intake from the diet is insufficient to meet the requirements necessary for the prevention of chronic diseases and/or for the promotion of health beyond the demands of preventing micronutrient deficiencies."
The proposal was supported by the National Health Federation, a non-governmental organization representing consumers and by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a US-based supplements industry group.
Anyone familiar with nutrition and the use of supplements in prevention and health promotion would not doubt that indeed supplements can play an important role in prevention and optimal health, but for the EU health authorities the earth still seems to be flat. The European Union's "observer" at Codex, Basil Mathioudakis, denied the obvious saying that foods really have nothing to do with the prevention of disease!
Yet the Nutrition Committee's delegates had received - in the same session - a copy of a FAO/World Health Organisation publication titled: "Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases", which clearly indicates the fact that diet and nutrition DO have something to do with prevention. What are we to think? Could this simply be incompetence or is the European bueraucracy dominated by other, unspoken interests in matters of nutrition and health?
In any case, after being reminded of the obvious contradiction, the committee's Chairman, German professor of nutrition Rolf Grossklaus, decided to ignore the rather innovative proposal from South Africa and stay with the old preamble, "in order to avoid conflict", not without having said that according to the law, only medicines may treat, heal or prevent illness. One might wonder why nutrition is considered to be so inferior to medicine in keeping us healthy.
ENTER SCIENTIFIC RISK ANALYSIS
A highly significant paper prepared by Australia introduced the concept of scientific risk analysis for evaluating the safety of supplements. Risk analysis consists of three components: risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. Each step has its own expertise and the separation of risk assessment from successive decisions on how to manage and communicate risks, guarantees a more impartial, scientific approach than current methods.
Scientific risk analysis has gained prominence within the last decade or so. It was developed to study and mitigate the effects of toxic chemicals and other damaging external factors on health. The application of this technology to the risks of nutrients implies a slightly different approach, as nutrients are generally beneficial and in many cases are indispensable to life. Therefore, applying risk analysis to nutrients, both ends of the scale have to be considered. There is a risk in "too little" just as there may be risks in "too much". These opposing ends of the scale need to be balanced and an optimal range of nutrient intake should be established, excluding risks from deficiency as well as from a potentially damaging oversupply.
Following the recommendations of Australia, the Committee acknowledged the relevance of risk analysis to its work and established a working group to elaborate specific guidelines on risk analysis, to be applied within its area of responsibility. The paper prepared by Australia, as well as other documents prepared for the Codex Nutrition Committee meeting, can be found on this page. (Risk analysis is number 10 of the agenda.)
POPULATION REFERENCE INTAKES IRRELEVANT FOR DOSAGE LIMITS
Another positive development from this year's Nutrition Committee meeting is the elimination of the "RDA option" in determining possible dosage limits for vitamin and mineral supplements. Until this year's meeting, the draft guideline contained (in point 3.2.2) an option that "the maximum level of each vitamin and/or mineral contained in a vitamin and mineral supplement per daily portion of consumption as suggested by the manufacturer should not exceed 100% of the recommended daily intake as determined by FAO/WHO."
The recommended daily amounts (RDAs or RDIs) are reference values for whole populations and have really little to do with individual nutrient needs, which can vary widely from one person to another, and even in one and the same person, they vary with different life situations and with external influences such as pollution, radiation, climate.
The Nutrition Committee agreed that, with Australia's proposal on risk analysis, the levels of RDA, set to ensure a minimum supply of vital nutrients to avoid deficiencies, should not be used to determine maximum dosages for vitamins and minerals in food supplements. Instead, limitations of dosages should be based on upper safe levels set by scientific risk assessment, taking into account the intake from other sources, such as our daily food intake.
This is a significant advance over previous discussions, where RDAs were considered by a number of countries as the way to protect consumers against a "vitamin oversupply".
posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Thursday November 6 2003
updated on Wednesday December 8 2010
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