The Codex controversy has been brewing for a decade. Much of the language about Codex from within alternative health circles is alarmist about the impending loss of freedom in health choices if countries move to adopt the guidelines of the Codex Alimentarious Commission. Codex could limit how vitamins, herbs and other dietary supplements can be marketed as foods and force many of those same products into the drug category. Once vitamins, herbs and dietary supplements are pushed into the drug category, the fear is that these products will be heavily regulated like drugs and eventually will be effectively removed from the market.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was established in 1963 by two United Nations organizations, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), to develop food standards and food guidelines. According to the Commission’s website, the "main purposes of this Programme are protecting health of the consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations."

On July 4th, 2005, the Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted restrictive guidelines for vitamins and minerals in foods. These guidelines would limit how much of these substances can be in food. Because vitamin and mineral supplements are regulated as foods in many countries including the United States, these products would be affected in countries that adopt the Codex guidelines. The problem is that the levels are expected to be set impossibly low thereby effectively removing most vitamin and mineral supplements from the food category. If they are no longer acceptable as food then they must be moved into the drug category, or come off the market. In Canada, the government has already stated that "the Guidelines will not be applicable in this country," but that’s because vitamins and minerals are already in the drugs category with the adoption of sweeping new natural health products regulations in 2004.

According to Sepp Hasselberger, owner of La Strega, a natural supplement company based in Rome, the new guidelines "may be a first step towards heavy controls on nutrition that would favor the pharmaceutical approach to disease over active, consumer-driven prevention." Moving vitamins and minerals to the drug category, along with the vastly greater levels of regulatory oversight drugs get – far more than is justified by the low risks say many experts – will force natural health product companies out of the vitamin and mineral supplement business. Only the largest companies with the resources to comply with drug regulations such as onerous drug-standard Good Manufacturing Practices and expensive clinical trials will be left when the dust settles. In Canada where new natural health products regulations brought herbs, vitamins and minerals into the drug category, 80% of Canadian companies eventually will be forced out of the industry according to the government’s own industry impact estimates.

Defenders of Codex invariably point to the Commission’s stated goal of ensuring fair trade through food standards harmonization as the reason for bringing out guidelines on vitamins and minerals, not some hidden agenda of the pharmaceutical industry to take control of the natural health products industry. But conspiracy theorists such as John Hammell of International Advocates for Health Freedom say that the threats to dietary supplements and herbs are just too great to ignore and now more than ever consumer advocacy is needed to protect access to these products. A television documentary, We Become Silent, by Kevin Miller forcefully makes the case of conspiracy theorists about Codex and other international trade-inspired threats to America’s dietary supplements.

In Canada, health advocates Trueman Tuck and Dr. Carolyn Dean of Friends of Freedom tried to push parliamentarians to support Bill C-420 that would amend Canada’s Food and Drugs Act, striking down Canada’s natural health products regulations and forcing natural health products back into the food category. Surprisingly, for a private member’s bill, C-420 survived second reading and was in committee when Parliament adjourned for the summer, but the bill ultimately failed to pass. Opponents to the bill were quick suggest that if the bill were passed as written then natural health products could have been adversely affected by Codex if Canada decides to adopt the Codex guidelines.

Medicinal claims for foods are on the Codex radar. If herbs are regulated as foods and dietary supplements as they are in the United States, the fear is that herbs, like vitamins and minerals, will be forced into the drug category in order to escape Codex. If that happens consumer access to herbal remedies could be threatened and thousands of herb-based products could be forced off the market, say industry watchers.

Documentary on Codex
We Become Silent

written and directed by
Kevin Miller (2005)
Windows Media Format 186 MB

[July 27, 2005]

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