Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

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November 03, 2004

Codex Nutrition Committee: Supplement Guidelines Final

Tuesday 2 November 2004 - The Codex Alimentarius Nutrition Committee sitting in a week-long conclave here in Bonn, formerly the capital of Germany, has concluded its deliberations of proposed international Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements. I am sitting in this meeting together with Scott Tips and Paul Taylor of the National Health Federation, one of the only consumer-centered bodies allowed in the meetings, and certainly the only NGO that has a strong pro-choice stand and is actually allowed a voice of comment, if not vote.

The delegates from around the world ironed out remaining differences and agreed to call the proposal a finished product, to be referred to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the executive body which has to give its final approval, probably by early July 2005. This decision ends a tedious decade-long marathon of what at times looked like a tug-of-war between countries supporting wide use of supplements for health and others much more cautious over the implications of having to import expensive nutrient-rich products, while their populations do not even have sufficient, let alone nutritious, foods.


Nutrition Committe of Codex in session - archive image

Industry representatives are satisfied with the results. "We did not get all we wanted, but we can work with these guidelines" was one comment heard in the corridors of the meeting's forum from a US industry representative who attended. Instead of severe dosage limitations - the original idea was to apply the minimal Recommended Daily Amounts or RDAs - it was agreed in last year's meeting to base possible dosage limitations on scientific risk analysis.

Nutrients are quite different from toxic chemicals, the first substances evaluated in this way. But work is underway to adapt the risk analysis principles to nutrients, which are vital parts of the diet, rather than contaminants. This is a separate project under the Codex Nutrition Committee, a year-round work group chaired by the Australian delegation, which will continue work in this coming year. In addition, FAO has announced that it will do its own work on risk assessment, which is part of the overall discipline of risk analysis.

There is also a work group charged with looking at nutrient reference values, which are the RDA amounts we find as percentages on food labels, such as - "this product contains 150 % of the recommended daily amount of vitamin K".

Consumers do look at such indications and if supplements are to promote optimal health, the figures must be right. There is a great opportunity here for those who believe nutritional products are the solution to our current health crisis. The science of nutritional intervention for health now has a chance to enter the mainstream and leave its mark on the official health advice provided to consumers.

The supplement Guidelines, as agreed by the Committee provide - at least for now - merely a statement of general principles. They do not mandate anything specific about either the sources of vitamins and minerals that can be used in the formulation of such products, nor do they restrict dosages, other than saying that future limits must be based on an analysis of the risks yet to be performed.

It appears that, apart from protesting against potentially restrictive Codex Guidelines for supplements, opposition may have to shift gears and bring the fight to the scientific arena. Energies might be well spent in providing scientific documentation attesting to the extremely low risk inherent in supplement use as well as to the efficacy of nutrients in prevention and health.

Standard or Guidelines?

Codex Alimentarius is in the business of crafting international standards, guidelines and related documents to facilitate cross-border trade in foods and protect the health of consumers. Countries may decide whether to apply such rules or not. Traditionally, guidelines were thought to be less binding than food standards, but independent research shows that this distinction has become eroded over time. The difference may now be more semantic than real.

In 1995, Codex Alimentarius and the then newly formed World Trade Organization agreed that WTO would use the documents elaborated by Codex as reference texts in the resolution of trade disputes. So while formerly, implementation of Codex documents was voluntary, this is no longer the case. As Suzan Walter of the American Holistic Health Association points out in comments published on the AHHA website, that "all texts provided by Codex to WTO, no matter what they are labeled, can be used as mandatory international trade regulations to be applied to every nation." An open letter distributed to delegates before this year's Codex meeting gives a good overview of the enforcement issue.

There seems to be little awareness of this changed situation as yet. Some countries have expressly reserved their right to not apply the future Guidelines on Supplements because they classify those products as medicines - but there might be a snag. Regulating supplements under medicines law may not exempt Canada, Australia, Mexico and some other Latin American nations from an eventual challenge to their laws under international trade agreements. Even for the United States, where politicians openly state that they do not intend to follow externally imposed regulations, a future trade dispute might bring an unexpected moment of truth.

The World Trade Organization appears set to make no distinction, but until there is an actual case, no one knows for sure - a real quandary because international law now seems to flow out of the relatively anonymous deliberations of health officials attending Codex meetings. For the most part, those officials have no national mandate that could bind their country, nor do they seem to be aware that their decisions may change national laws by-passing any parliamentary checks and balances. Under the WTO, trade sanctions are the tool to force compliance.

Some more history

Work on these Supplement Guidelines was first proposed by the German delegation to the Codex Nutrition Committee in 1994. For several years, work progressed slowly but the agenda was kept alive by the Germans. At the time this was widely looked upon as a somewhat strange attempt to regulate supplements, coming as it did from a country that practically has no history of use of these products.

At the same time, Germany also introduced the idea of a European Food Supplements Directive. That effort was shelved for some years, after a first round of consultations showed that the field was much too difficult and contentious to regulate by directive. A few years later however - after Codex work on supplements had progressed - work re-started on the Food Supplements directive. This renewed effort was largely driven by the UK and Germany and as it happened, the European directive made it to the finishing line two years before the Codex guidelines.

The European food supplements directive may seem restrictive - indeed it has been challenged before the European Court of Justice over its prohibition of products that do not meet strict formulation criteria.

In shaping the Codex "consensus" on supplements, it appears that the EU directive provided a blueprint, a fact that was perhaps not given sufficient importance by non-European delegations. In the numerous meetings that led to the current text, corners were cut and at times, the German chairman Rolf Grossklaus and the representative of the European Union, Basil Mathioudakis, have been more or less openly accused of bending the rules.

Working in concert, the Germany/EU team seems to have acted to blunt initiatives of the developing countries as well as the English-speaking world, even excluding views of some delegations not strictly in agreement with what now appears to have been a pre-set agenda. The result - a text for the Codex Supplements Guidelines that reads remarkably similar to the European Food Directive. Unfortunately no transcripts of these meetings exist, the report prepared by the Codex Secretariat does not include details of proposals and comments or show how some interventions are "left by the wayside".

See also:

by Scott Tips, Editor of Health Freedom News, Board Member and Legal Counsel for NHF

Codex Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements: The Controversy Continues
By Paul Anthony Taylor

Codex - The Facts by James Gormley - Citizens for Health


World Net Daily
Vitamins: Will they be regulated as drugs?
Some warn of draconian measure by world body, others roll eyes

WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
A program mandated by the World Health Assembly (WHA) to develop a strategy which will help to improve health through diet and physical acitvity...

The Growing Threats to DSHEA
A well documented article by Paul Taylor, discussing DSHEA, the US law on food supplements passed in 1994, and how this law may be influenced by the Codex Alimentarius guidelines on supplements...

The Codex Conundrum and How it Affects Supplements in America

Codex Alimentarius: Big Pharma's Attempt to Subjugate Planet Earth...

Emergency Citizens' Petition to U.S. CODEX Office and other actions you can take to thwart the Codex Alimentarius agenda of controlling and progressively eliminating preventive and curative food supplements as a personal health option.

The Vitamin Police Are Suiting Up
The bureaucrats know that if it were ever to come to a vote, voters in most nations will affirm their right to be left alone when it comes to vitamins. The war has therefore moved from politics to bureaucratic agreements. The war is about to escalate.


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Wednesday November 3 2004
updated on Wednesday December 8 2010

URL of this article:


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Readers' Comments

Codex international guidelines - how are they applied around the world?

Here is a recent exchange by email, which clarifies an important and much asked question: How will the recently finalized Codex Alimentarius guidelines on vitamin and mineral supplements be applied in Canada (and in other countries around the world)?

Paul Taylor answers a question asked by Bonita Poulin to Chris Gupta, who has several articles on Codex Alimentarius on his site: Share the Wealth.

The question:

First I would like to thank you for your work in trying to make this Codex issue public knowledge. I have found many interesting articles on your website.

Since bringing the Codex issue to their attention, I have been asked by the AEHA of Ottawa to write up a quick blurb on the effects this legislation will have on Canadians and when it will happen if it goes through. I have discovered that there is lots of info on how it will affect us but the timeline is not clear. After checking your website I am even more confused!

You have an article entitled "July 1, 2005: The Day CODEX Will Protect You From High-Dose Dietary Supplements?" which implies in the title that July 1,2005 will be our D day. Yet in the first paragraph the author states that "About 18 months from now the dreaded CODEX rules will go into force" and it is dated 11/8/2004 which implies that the legislation would not be enacted until May or June 2006.

Which is it? Can you clarify please?

Bonita Poulin

The answer by Paul Taylor:

The simple answer to Bonita's question is that there hasn't been a date set for when the Codex guidelines will come into force in any country, let alone Canada, and nor will there be. The reason for this is simply that the Codex text is merely a guideline, not a piece of legislation. As such therefore it has to be enacted into national law in order for it to be enforced in a country. In other words, unless and until the Canadian government passes legislation to enforce the new Codex guidelines my understanding is that they will generally not affect Canadians directly.

However, whilst it may be technically true for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to say that there is no legal obligation on WTO Members to apply Codex standards, guidelines and recommendations, the reality is that Codex texts are used by the WTO as a means of resolving international trade disputes, and WTO Members are legally obliged to abide by WTO rulings. As such, if Canada, or any other country, became involved in an international trade dispute the WTO Dispute Settlement Body has the ability to force it to comply with the Codex guidelines.

Moreover, even when a country decides not to use a Codex standard the measure that it operates in place of that Codex standard remains subject to a range of conditions set out in detail in Article 5 of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement). The most important of these conditions is a requirement to take into account risk assessment techniques developed by "the relevant international organizations". These relevant organizations include both Codex itself, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).

Given therefore that the FAO and WHO are currently engaged in a project to define a "scientifically-based" and "internationally applicable" approach for nutrient risk assessment, it Is clear that once this has been completed and the maximum levels for the Codex guidelines have been set the implementation of the guidelines effectively becomes mandatory.

Nevertheless, it is also important to realise that if and when the Canadian government does attempt to pass such legislation it would not be called ‘Codex', and nor would the Codex guidelines probably even be referred to publicly. In the European Union, for example, we already have our own form of the Codex guidelines, which are called the Food Supplements Directive (FSD). Indeed, it is precisely because of the voting strength of the EU-block at Codex that the guidelines now so closely resemble sections of the FSD.

Further useful information on the legal aspects of Codex can be found in the recent excellent article by Suzanne Harris JD from the Law Loft, re-published on the site of Alliance for Natural Health.

Posted by: Sepp on December 1, 2004 12:00 PM


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The Individual Is Supreme And Finds Its Way Through Intuition


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These articles are brought to you strictly for educational and informational purposes. Be sure to consult your health practitioner of choice before utilizing any of the information to cure or mitigate disease. Any copyrighted material cited is used strictly in a non commercial way and in accordance with the "fair use" doctrine.



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