It sounds like something straight out of a conspiracy theory – the shadowy Codex Alimentarius Commission has been quietly making decisions about the food we eat for decades. With obesity and malnutrition reaching record highs in the UK, Leonie Nimmo asks whose interests they have really been protecting.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is a cog in the giant machine that controls the global trade of food. This is made up of multiple supra-national bodies, including Codex’s parents, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Under their facilitation, Codex has been developing standards, guidelines and recommendations for the trade of food since 1963. These cover a range of issues, such as maximum pesticide residues, food additives and food labelling.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) governs global trade and ensures that nation states do not commit the terrible crime of going against the current neo-liberal trade system. Described on the Codex website as “fair trade” but elsewhere called “free trade”, this system prevents countries from utilising mechanisms that are interpreted as barriers to trade.
Some of these policies, such as taxing imports or subsidising exports, could be used to protect domestic industries or agricultural production. This is not usually permitted by the current system unless you are an extremely wealthy and powerful nation or block of nations such as the United States and Europe.
Other policies are more contentious, and include the labelling of genetically modified food and refusing to allow imports of products not considered safe by the importing country. This is where the Codex recommendations come into play. Trade disputes of the kind played out by Europe and North America would leave most countries bankrupt, and so are simply not an option. If a country wanted to implement legislation different to the standards, guidelines and recommendations produced by Codex, it would risk initiating such as dispute.
Countries in the global South have long had their ability to utilise protective trade policies stripped away by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. In the industrialised North, however, we are used to dictating terms rather than being dictated to.
THE INTERNATIONAL FOOD CODE OF CODEX ALIMENTARIUS
By Robert Verkerk PhD, executive and scientific director of the Alliance for Natural Health International (www.anhinternational.org)
Processed foods full of additives and out-of-season, cosmetically perfect fruit and veg that taste of surprisingly little are now commonplace in European supermarkets. Over 85% of the compound animal feed used to raise European farm animals are now genetically modified (GM). This is a far cry from the days of getting most of your fruit and veg from the local farmers’ market or the local greengrocer.
The trend towards globalisation has caused massive changes in so many areas of our lives, among the most profound being the origin, nature and quality of the food we eat daily.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is heavily influenced by some of the most powerful industries on the planet, including the food, agricultural, biotech and pharmaceutical industries. Codex’s stated purpose is to ensure that global trade is facilitated and trade barriers are removed, while also ensuring that consumers are adequately protected.
It is therefore no great surprise that Codex has seen fit to ‘green light’ many GM foods, food additives, pesticide residues, synthetic hormones and other intrinsically unhealthy food components. It also has substantially dumbed down organic standards, making them more accessible to large agricultural players. Consumer interests are often seemingly low on Codex’s list of priorities.
The guidelines, standards and recommendations produced by Codex are not actually laws. They do however provide a template for laws and are regarded by the World Trade Organization (WTO), which effectively acts as the arbitrator in any global trade dispute, as the internationally agreed benchmark.
The WTO’s status as Codex’s ‘policeman’ has been asserted with the 10-year long dispute between the USA and Canada, on one hand, and the EU on the other, over synthetic hormones in US and Canadian beef that the EU refused to accept on the basis of health concerns. For the privilege, the EU had to fork out around US$130 million annually. It’s easy to see how smaller countries would simply be unable to resist pressure from the all-powerful minority.
If you want to find out more about Codex, as well as to get involved in the campaign to influence and raise awareness about Codex, go to www.anh-europe.org.