by John C. Hammell, legislative advocate, founder, International Advocates for Health Freedom
Please read the enclosed interim report by Suzanne Harris on what just happened at the end of June at the meeting of the Codex Executive Committee. It is clear to me that the German proposal was set back to step 3 by grass roots action which was catalyzed all over the world largely by International Advocates for Health Freedom. Through our public speaking, writing, and work on the internet, we were able to sound an international alarm, but our work is just beginning. In Canada we worked closely with Freedom of Choice in Health Care just in time to file 2 lawsuits against the Canadian HPB, attacking an overly broad definition of "drug" and stopping the 3rd phase of cost recovery which would have driven small manufacturers out of business. Most Americans are blissfully unaware of what has been happening on our northern flank, but IAHF was there while you were sleeping.
IAHF is working with health freedom groups all over the world including Canada, UK, South Africa, Spain, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand. We are a decentralized, catalytic entity which enables the grass roots to compare notes and intel data world wide, and we need your active support. We do public speaking, will travel anywhere in the world to carry our public health message, and have had articles published in several countries. Please mirror and link to our website which is located in Australia. Please send us donations.
Fake grass roots, "Astroturf" organizations are already trying to claim credit for what happened in Geneva, and are trying to say that we sounded an unnecessary alarm. Do not be deceived. We must remain vigilant not only to events being played out internationally, but also to ongoing Codex harmonization efforts.
The effort currently underway in the US through the Commission on Dietary Supplement Labels to create an OTC drug category for herbs and botanicals is ill advised.
The Florida legislature has just made ephedra, phenylalanine, and DMSO prescription "drugs", and the Florida Department of Health will meet on Monday 7/14 to finalize their rules. This sort of effort on the state level must be strongly opposed. It is part of Codex harmonization, part of an effort to move things to the point where eventually the pharmaceutical industry would be able to get the support they need within the Codex Commission. International Advocates for Health Freedom badly needs your support in order to coordinate opposition to Codex harmonization world wide, as well as at the state and federal levels.
Please send your checks made out to "International Advocates
for Health Freedom" c/o John Hammell 2411 Monroe St. Hollywood,
FL 33020 USA. For more information: www.iahf.com.
Fax on Demand 954-927-8795, Tel. 800-333-2553, 954-929-2905, FAX 954-929-0507, International Advocates for Health Freedom 2411 Monroe St. Hollywood, FL 33020 U.S.A.
The German proposal to control potencies and combinations of vitamins and minerals was at step 5. In theory, it could have been accepted by the Commission at step 5 thus bypassing all of the remaining steps in the process if no nation had objected to its acceptance.
In fact it could have progressed from Step 5 to Step 6 if a 'consensus' of the Commission had agreed. Under the Codex procedure, this is the point in the process where nations can draw to the attention of the Commission specific economic problems for domestic industries that the proposed guidelines would cause. This is also a stage at which work proposals can be dropped altogether or downgraded, that is, backed up to an earlier stage in the process.
As correctly noted by John Hammell after the last meeting of the NFSDU committee, the Canadian proposal to create a negative, or no trade list for certain herbs and botanicals, was still on the agenda at Codex. The proposal to refer the Canadian proposal to an expert committee was still on the agenda as was the question of whether or not to continue work on the Canadian proposal.
Consideration of the vitamin, mineral, herb and botanical issues
came up on the evening of Wednesday, June 25, 1997. Curiously,
Dr. Somogyi, the man from the German Ministry of Health and the
head of the Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary
Uses, had been 'called away' and was not present for the discussion
of this part of his committee's work. The dialogue began with
the following remarks from the head of the delegation from the
Netherlands (which had special status at this Codex Commission
meeting since it spoke not only for itself, but also as then head
of the European Union):
(Please note that the following comments were drawn from my notes, and are not quite verbatim.)
Netherlands: We have had some difficulty here. The area is a minefield. There was fierce opposition in the committee. Also essential parts in square brackets remain unresolved. How can we advance this proposal to step 6 when there is so much uncertainty? We have reservations. We do not agree to advance this proposal to step 6.
Canada: We are referring here to 97/25 part 6. We agree with the Netherlands that this is a minefield. In our view development of the proposal should cease [altogether, in other words be dropped.] In our view, consideration of this proposal could interfere with the development of international practices.
A significant number of consumers believe that they have a right to consume these vitamins and minerals. Worldwide guidelines are not required. (This matter should be left to national authorities.) Canada strongly opposes adoption at step 5. We recommend that 1) we cease development of these guidelines altogether or 2) at least return the proposal to step 4.
Germany: It is true that there have been very controversial discussions. But a majority decided to put the matter to the committee at Step 5. Seven out of thirty nine were against advancing the standard to step 5. The commission has to decide should the proposal advance to Step 6 or return to Step 3.
South Africa: We agree with the Netherlands not to advance to Step 6 but we do not agree to totally discontinue work.
New Zealand: We support the position of Canada and the Netherlands.
United States of America: We are referring here to 97/25- part 6 which states the United States position. (The USA filed a position paper opposing the adoption of the German proposal.) This is not an appropriate topic for international standardization at this time. There are too many unresolved areas in square brackets. There are different laws in the various nations on this subject. There are different public health needs. There are different cultures here. We are divided by deep cultural differences on this issue. What has emerged here is not science based.
Australia: We associate ourselves with the positions stated by Canada, Netherlands, and the United States. We speak on behalf of New Zealand too since we now have a joint regulatory authority. There are enormous problems for Australia. This is a matter for national governments. In our terms these substances are not foods.
Japan: We support the position of the USA.
Norway: There is a need for further discussion. We think that it is important that the work continue. There is a need that this area be standardized.
Austria: We support not holding up the work in this area. The work here shouldn't stop.
Hungary: We appreciate the comments of Norway. We support continuance of this work.
Germany: The terms of reference for this committee have recently been extended. The committee has become horizontal. Its name has changed.
Chairman: I see a consensus then to return the proposal to Step 3. We need a fundamental re-thinking on the developing discord on this issue.
The chairman stated that there was a consensus to expand the terms of reference of the committee. No nation voiced any objection to this proposal.
NFSDU: The committee doesn't think that it is the appropriate forum.
Chairman: We concur. It will be deleted from the committee's work program. And we should not support an expert consultation on this issue.
Canada: The whole issue has evolved significantly since Canada first introduced it at the Committee on North America and the Southwest Pacific. The whole subject of herbs and botanicals is a quagmire of landmines. There is too much variation in countries. We feel that Codex should withdraw from the field and leave the matter of regulation to individual countries.
Mexico: These products are not foods, supplements, or drugs. There is no way of giving governments support. We can consider them as not food but in international trade they are sold as foods.
At Codex, it's definitely not over til it's over. Because to some degree, the Codex Commission functions like a board of directors meeting, the language used in the final report is important. In essence, the language used in the final meeting is what the final commission report says it is regardless of what actually happened at the meeting. For this reason a number of issues were again hotly contested at the discussion of the final report.
However, neither the vitamin and mineral issue nor the herbs and botanicals issue were rehashed at the time that the proposed draft was reviewed. This is both good news and bad news as a review of the proposed language for the final report illustrates:
99. The Delegations of Canada and the United States, supported by Australia and Japan, expressed their objection to the development of the Guidelines in the framework of the Codex as this matter should be left to national authorities to regulate, in view of the wide differences between countries concerning the regulatory status and consumption habits of vitamin and mineral supplements. The development of international guidelines in this area would negatively affect the right of consumers to use these products and there was not scientific basis for such restriction. It was also pointed out that many sections of the text were in square brackets and there may not be sufficient consensus at this stage to advance it to step 6.
100. Several delegations pointed out that these products were traded internationally and their unregulated development posed a problem to control authorities, it was therefor essential that work on this issue should continue within the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Food for Special Dietary Use.
101. The Commission agreed to return the Proposed Draft Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements to Step 3 for further comments and consideration by the Committee, including a fundamental reconsideration of the need for the Guidelines.
What's Wrong With This Picture?:
Nothing, in the sense that it's a pretty fair summary of the discussions. However, on close reading its pretty clear that while we have bought time (about 2 years in which to organize), we have definitely not won the war as yet.
139. The Commission concurred with the view of the Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses that no further action was needed concerning these products as this was a matter for national authorities to address, especially as regulations and practices in this area greatly differed from one country to another. The matter was deleted from the Commission's Work Program.
What's Wrong With Paragraph 139?
Perhaps nothing. The US delegation which is headed by the Department of Agriculture saw nothing wrong with it. I felt that it should have included an express statement that the Commission did not recommend that an expert panel take up this issue. I was able to get J.B. Cordaro who was on the US delegation to raise the issue, but he did not prevail. It's very, very important to remember here that independent expert panels whether convened by FAO or WHO can take up this issue at any time without a vote of the Codex Commission. That's in addition to the fact that the issue can arise independently at ICDRA or IPPC (for botanicals). We are definitely not out of the woods yet. And while we have won a victory here, we've not won the war.
Thus it would be have been helpful if the Codex had gone on record as not recommending an expert panel. I got the feeling as to the Americans, including the industry guys from DC and elsewhere, who think that they are experts here, that no one understood the interrelationships among the various international agencies well enough, although Cordaro, to his credit, seemed willing to learn and acted promptly when I asked him to.
138. The Commission approved the amended Terms of Reference as proposed noting that they reflected the emphasis on the horizontal aspects of the Committee's work.
As to Number 138:
This is accurate but it also points up a danger. Germany was confirmed again as the Chairman of the committee. With the new terms of reference, it gets broader powers over the issue of nutrition in all foods. While at present it seems that standards and guidelines on nutrition content in foods are not international reference standards under GATT, GATT is expanding and new treaties to create new agreements are in the works as I write. Thus there is no guarantee that NFSDU guidelines on nutrition content will not become international reference standards in the future.
It is very much a part of the character of the way that this international game is being played that standards are elaborated while few are watching and nobody thinks that they are binding only to discover after the fact that a WTO decision or a new treaty arrangement will make them more significant in the future.
I spoke with the NNFA non-voting delegate at the Codex Commission. He and NNFA are trying to cut a deal with the Europeans and are holding a meeting in Europe this fall. I think on September 23.
Consumers should be asking: what is the nature of this deal they
are trying to cut; and
what level of understanding do they have of the entire process?
I had the definite feeling that they are trying to cut a deal without truly understanding the game. This could be very, very dangerous for health freedom. Not only do they not appear to understand the international relationships, but they don't appear to understand the parameters of the newly emerging international law in this area. There are few things more dangerous than somebody who thinks he gets the game and really doesn't.
Part of what is happening here is that the parameters of the newly emerging international law are not being shared with either the public or with all the lawyers whose practices overlap into this area. Thus you have lawyers out there who are giving advise based on the rules that they know, who haven't got a clue that brand new rules are emerging behind closed doors. For example, without going into details, it became obvious to me at the briefing given by the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures at the WTO on June 30th that it is absolutely vital from an emerging international law perspective that we keep dietary supplements, minerals, herbs, and botanicals classified as foods in the USA and get them reclassified as foods in Canada.
International Advocates for Health Freedom
John C. Hammell, Legislative Advocate
2411 Monroe St.#2 Hollywood, FL 33020 USA
800-333-2553, 954-929-2905, FAX 954-929-0507,
FAX ON DEMAND 954-927-8795,firstname.lastname@example.org