Codex Leaves Global Strategy Slim Pickings

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Once again Codex, the world's food standards setting body, has side stepped actions which would focus it on health instead of trade. Despite direction to implement the pro-health WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health by both of its parent bodies and report on its progress on doing so, the annual Codex meeting in Geneva put off any action for another year.

Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) put off dealing with a strong pro-health initiative for another year. Last year at the 28th CAC meeting, noting that Codex was not serving its mandate for health, Codex’s parent organizations, World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) jointly required that the world food standard setting body, which WHO and FAO run jointly as a special project for the UN, must change its focus to include health through implementation of the WHO’s “Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health” (GS). The GS was adopted as a World Health Assembly Resolution in 2004 and is therefore “morally binding” on all member nations of the WHO. Most countries of the world are members of the WHO, WHA, Codex and the UN. Strategies for implementation were supposed to take place following discussed by the only two Codex committees which have any relationship to nutrition: Codex Committee on Nutrition and Food for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) chaired by Rolf Grossklaus, MD of Germany and the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL) chaired by Ann McKenzie of Canada. CCNFSDU and CCFL each met once during the ensuing year as regularly scheduled. Although discussion was set to take place at this year’s CAC meeting, the CAC decided today to give itself at least another year to follow precisely the same pattern which it followed over the past year resulting in no forward movement toward in the implementation of any pro-health activity on the part of Codex.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) deferred dealing with the required pro-health initiative despite the fact that its mandate says one of its prime responsibilities is to protect the health of consumers. At its 29th annual meeting in Geneva today, the world food standard setting body failed to comply with the requirement imposed upon it one year ago by its parent organization to implement the World Health Organization’s pro-health Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (GS). Instead of adopting principles by which to widen its actual focus to include health and nutritional rather than focusing exclusively on the technical standards which ease food trade, CAC instead held a 3-4 minute discussion which put the issue off for another year by adopting the following recommendations:

1.    CAC will accept a delay of one year in dealing with the implementation of the GS

2.    WHO/FAO will complete an action document and disseminate it by circular letter to the Codex member nations

3.    CCNFSDU and CCFL will once again discuss the implementation of the G

4.    Views and recommendations of these committee will be provided to next year’s CAC and their comments will be considered in next year’s CAC deliberations.

Pro-health observers of the GS process like the Natural Solutions Foundation, http://www.HealthFreedomUSA.org, note that the required discussion was marred during the past year by several impediments to progress.

CCNFSDU Chairman Rolf Grossklaus, well known for his autocratic style of running his Committee, at the 2005 meeting (November, 2005, Bonn, Germany) inexplicably moved the discussion of the GS implementation from Agenda Item No. 2 to the final item on the agenda. He allotted 13 minutes to the highly complex but vitally important discussion of how GS implementation could be globally accomplished. The ordinarily highly efficient German Secretariat of the CCNFSDU forgot to make the joint letter from WHO/FAO (which detailed what that implementation was to consist of) available to the attendees. Providing the letter (which ordinarily is set out before the start of the discussion to avoid any loss of time) consumed about 7 minutes.

Dr. Grossklaus initiated the discussion with approximately 6 minutes to go before the simultaneous translators (without whom the meeting cannot proceed) were to leave upon the conclusion of the last day of the meeting. After approximately 3 minutes, Dr. Grossklaus interrupted the discussion and asked the presiding Chair of next year’s CCNFSDU meeting to show slides of the Thai resort where the meeting will take place in October (Chang Mai) and invite the attendees to the 2006 meeting during the remaining 3 minutes of the meeting. All further CCNFSDU discussion was terminated by the departure of the translators.

At the CCFL meeting, the implementation of the GS was allowed to remain as Agenda Item No. 2 and meaningful discussion took place in which South Africa presented the 11 points which it had previously submitted for consideration in the electronic forum set up for member nation’s comments on GS implementation strategies and questions. These 11 points included optimal health as a goal for Codex, recognizing the role of dietary supplements and that they should not be treated as toxins, banning synthetic trans fats from the food supply and prohibiting junk food advertising targeting children.

Like the GS itself, South Africa’s 11 points focus Codex on a strongly pro-health agenda consistent with its mandate and capacities, but inconsistent with its activities and decisions over its 43 year history. Although consensus, the principle by which Codex allegedly makes decisions, was reached through assent by all countries present with the exception of the US, it was a single comment of the US which was allowed to prevail by the Canadian Chair. When the US alone stated that it could not accept optimal health as a goal for Codex, the Chair immediately threw out that concept (saying aloud, “In again, out again!” and watered down the 11 specific points to 5 vague and imprecise ones.

None the less, South Africa insisted during the final phase of the CCFL meeting (in which the permanent report on the committee’s deliberations is finalized) that all 11 points be reinserted. This provided CAC with a viable, well discussed and comprehensive plan for GS implementation which was available during the current CAC session. Consistent with its apparent goal of avoiding pro-health actions, CAC refused to deal with South Africa’s strong initiative or with any other option, instead deferring all CAC action on implementing the GS for another year.

The WHO/FAO joint requirement for CAC to implement the GS followed several events at the 2005 CAC meeting (July 4-9, 2005, Rome, Italy) which highlighted Codex’s long-term failure to incorporate the health part of its mandate into its deliberations and activities. In a portion of last year’s CAC meeting (now mysteriously no longer part of the available official record of that meeting), Codex’s health-related failures were highlighted by WHO and FAO. Noting that Codex had “Failed to make a contribution to human health in its [then] 42 years of existence”, the now-retired WHO Undersecretary for Sustainable Development, Dr. Kirsten Leitner, chastised the standard setting organization. Following that trend, a WHO/FAO Joint Consultation initiated in 2000 was presented to the CAC admonishing CAC that it “should determine whether Codex has a relationship to nutrition and, if so, what that relationship is” [emphasis added]. It was suggested that CCNFSDU and CCFL could do that or a new taskforce or committee should be formed to carry out this work.

Not surprisingly, the CAC chair did not permit discussion of this item. The following day, WHO and FAO told CAC that it would implement the WHO GS and that CAC would report progress in that implementation at the current 2006 CAC meeting. Progress by the CAC on this item, however, has failed to materialize.

The Natural Solutions Foundation, while disappointed, recognizes that the ensuing year’s time before the GS is considered by CAC again gives the pro-health coalition of nations gathering momentum the opportunity to strategize their interventions to bring about a successful implementation one year from now at the 2007 CAC.

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Rima E. Laibow MD
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