What is Codex?

Codex Alimentarius (Latin for “food rules”) is coming to Australia. According to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), “The proposed Codex Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements will NOT apply in Australia and will have NO IMPACT on the way these types of products are regulated in Australia.” However, despite such fervent denials by various regulatory bodies — and the conspiracy theories that continue to proliferate — the brutal truth is that Australia and New Zealand, as members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), will be obliged to abide by the Codex regulations used by the WTO to resolve international trade disputes.

As the web of complex free trade agreements sweeps across the globe, failure to comply with the international food regulator on nutritional supplement laws may result in trade sanctions — a move, analysts predict, that could cripple important sectors of the economies of WTO member countries that fail to comply.

Described by orthomolecular physician Dr Matthias Rath as “an unscrupulous attempt” to implement “pharmaceutical cartel protection laws” and bolster the “spread of business with disease”, the prospective new global food rules have generated an unprecedented backlash from consumers as far afield as New York, London, Bonn and Johannesburg as they witness the new Food Supplements Directive being gradually introduced across the European Union (EU). The legislation is considered draconian by millions of concerned healthcare advocates who have banded together in an all-out attempt to quash it in what may be one of the most fiercely contested battles for consumer rights the world has ever seen.

So what exactly is Codex and, more importantly, how will it affect consumers throughout Australia and New Zealand? Unravelling the Codex mystique and its global agenda is far from easy.


A brief history of Codex

Although the history of food adulteration and the enactment of protective food codes are as old as the written word, the origins of the present-day Codex date back to the late 19th century, when the Hapsburg government created an organisation known as the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus in a bid to establish uniformity of food standards across the sprawling Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was superseded by the Codex Alimentarius Europaeus, also known as the European Codex Alimentarius.

Moves to establish an international food safety program were set in motion in 1943 when 44 nations met for a United Nations (UN) conference on food and agriculture to establish an international body to “assist governments to extend and improve standards of nutrient content of all important foods”. From this meeting the present-day Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was born.

The FAO later worked closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) in an attempt to oversee the widening use of chemicals in the food industry, and in 1961 the final piece of the current Codex organisation fell into place when the Council of the Codex Alimentarius Europeaus adopted a resolution to merge its work on food standards with the FAO and the WHO. A year later, the work of the FAO’s Additives Committee was blended into this new establishment and the Codex Alimentarius was born.

With a membership of 143 countries, Codex defines itself as “a code of food standards for all nations”. The organisation has a Commission, which meets biennially, and an Executive Committee with various sub-committees under its umbrella, the most important being, as far as alternative medicine is concerned, the Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (NFSDU), based in Germany.

The Codex Commission itself determines the need for a standard and arranges for it to be drafted. This begins an eight-step procedure in which items such as maximum residue levels (MRLs), codes of practice and guidelines are reviewed twice by the Commission and twice by governments and other interested parties, including food manufacturers, traders and select consumer advocates, before adoption.


Emerging international standards

To fully understand the critical role Codex has in today’s health war, we need to revisit the twilight years of the last century, when the agency was transformed into a major world player almost by accident.

The 1994 Marrakesh Trade Summit saw the enactment of a range of bills that provided Codex with the legal basis for the enforcement of a variety of regulations via the world’s food supply. To the general public, the news meant next to nothing. But to corporate movers and shakers still anxious, despite the embarrassing collapse of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), to carve up a chunk of the world’s public sector services, including health and education, Codex now had the power to create trade standards, texts and guidelines the WTO could use to resolve trade disputes. Major food and drug conglomerates saw how Codex could be used via WTO rules to further their own business expansion plans following the collapse of the MAI. Thus, inadvertently, Codex became a big player.

Plagued by their own deep-seated problems (such as increasingly costly litigation and faltering consumer faith in drugs and conventional medicine) and mindful of the massive fiscal potential of traditional medicine, major pharmaceutical companies together with chemical and agricultural concerns moved in on the complementary healthcare sector in October 1996.

When the NFSDU Committee met as usual in Germany, high on the agenda was a proposal tabled by the German government to “harmonise” health supplements throughout the EU to “emerging international standards”. The proposal was driven by three of Germany’s most influential drug giants (Hoechst, Bayer and BASF), who were determined to set the wheels of Codex in motion throughout WTO countries, using the EU as a starting point. The proposal suggested:

  • No dietary supplement is to be sold for preventive or therapeutic use.
  • Codex regulations for dietary supplements will become binding.
  • All new dietary supplements will be banned unless they have undergone extensive Codex testing (via scientific risk assessment) and final approval.

After much bureaucratic side-stepping and refinement, the German directive was passed by the EU Parliament in Brussels on 13 March 2002.

The EU Food Supplements Directive, which overrules the current national regulations of each individual EU member state, automatically affects some 5000 products and will go into full effect in Europe on 31 December 2009.

The Directive has already become law in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the EFTA states Iceland and Norway. It has seen zinc tablets, for instance, rise from AU$4 to AU$42 per bottle. Echinacea, now classified as a “drug”, has risen from AU$14 to AU$153. Vitamin C at doses greater than 200mg/day has been stripped from the shelves of healthfood stores and is currently available as a prescription-only item — at double the price plus GP consultation.

Under the new ruling, only supplements made from a list of 15 minerals and 13 vitamins will be allowed in ultra-low potencies on the new “Positives List”, mirroring levels that were originally set during World War II to stave off malnutrition.

What to expect by 2010

The vitamins and minerals ban is only the tip of the Codex iceberg. As healthcare advocates, consumer rights activists and lawyers pored over the 16,000+ pages of Codex working documentation available to the public, it soon became clear there were other aspects to the directive many European governments were now openly calling “benevolent”.

In addition, the following global rules look set to apply for all WTO members by approximately 2010:

  • The Codex preamble expressly forbids the use of nutrients to “prevent, treat or cure any condition”.
  • Herbs have been placed under a closed committee of the WHO where they are now held to be untested drugs. There is only a short list of approved herbs that may be used for specific conditions. While some complex oriental herbal formulas may be permitted, most will not. Ayurvedic, Tibetan, tribal and other traditional medicines that use herbs and natural substances are to be forbidden in WTO member countries. Herbal, shamanic and energy-based medicines are held to be forbidden forms of treatment.
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are to be legal in all foods and under all circumstances.
  • Codex is to set permissible upper levels for pesticide residues, toxic chemicals, hormones in food and other environmental contaminants that are many times greater than those advocated by chemical and pesticide industry lobby groups.
  • Codex mandates that all animal feed be treated with antibiotics, hormones and growth stimulants. (This would sound the death knell for organic, freerange and biodynamic farming as we know it.)
  • Codex further mandates that the irradiation of all food will go ahead, despite the arguments of food safety experts.


Consumer backlash

The backlash from consumers has been immediate and bitter. In a desperate effort to stem the controversial ruling in Germany, for instance, thousands of men, women and children took to the streets of Bonn in October 2004.

Addressing the crowd, Dr Rath, widely considered the successor to multiple Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling (1901-1994), fumed: “The pharmaceutical cartel’s Codex plans are, more than ever before in human history, an unscrupulous attempt to sustain a multi-billion-dollar global system of fraud and deception by misusing governments and national and international parliaments to pass protection and muzzling laws, and to prevent affordable healthcare based on natural, non-patentable remedies.”

Across the English Channel, several months later in April 2005, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) in conjunction with Nutri-Link Ltd, the British Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) and the National Association of Health Stores (HAHS) won the first round in the battle when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) Advocate General Leendert Geelhoed stated that the EU Food Supplements Directive did, in fact, infringe current health guidelines and was “wrong”.

But the victory was to be a temporary one. On 4 July 2005, at its regular biennial meeting in Rome, after nearly a decade of deliberation and discussion, the Codex Commission moved to ratify its guidelines and thus provide a framework for the manufacture and sale of dietary supplements containing vitamins and minerals. When the ECJ sat again on 12 July, it was unable to overturn legislation that was fully in line with the newly agreed global standard. As a consequence, the ECJ overturned the Advocate General’s opinion and ruled to make Codex official. The ANH had lost the battle.

As the Rome meeting drew to a close, the US delegation issued a formal written statement to the Commission pledging support for the compulsory rules, overriding domestic laws allowing its own citizens access to nutritional supplements. The US media was silent. Shortly afterwards, the Australian and New Zealand governments stepped into line behind the EU and the US. Again, the media was silent.


How will Codex affect Australia?

When voting on Codex regulations, there is little doubt the EU remains the most important influence, as member states have one vote per country. So far, only South Africa (with one vote) has openly voted against the regulations, while, to be fair, the Australian delegation has tried unsuccessfully to lobby for a change to the wording of the legislation to protect domestic markets. The US, despite having a population of 280 million people, has only one vote. Thus, the EU is able to wield a block vote. But by far the most important player remains the WTO.

The WTO views the “harmonisation” of food standards as vital in promoting “free trade”. Under its banner, dominant corporations from the EU, the US and Japan have continued to grow, ever expanding into new markets in search of greater returns. WTO members are effectively tied to implementing all Codex standards by structuring trade regulations to abide by these international rules — or face sanctions.

Australian consumers, so the argument goes, are unlikely to want to buy low-dose European-made supplements that have been subjected to Codex restrictions. But if Australia allows the domestic sale of supplements and substances at dosage levels that are disallowed in the EU, it could effectively be seen to be imposing a “barrier” to the “free trade” of EU supplements in this country. Such an act on Canberra’s part could be deemed “unfair” as it would favour domestic products over imported ones.

Under the WTO rules and via Codex, the EU would therefore be within its rights to take Australia to the WTO Settlement Body (the WTO global adjudicator). And it would probably win. Australia would then have to pledge to “harmonise” its domestic supplements industry to match the EU dosage levels, or risk WTO sanctions. Canberra would have little recourse but to comply.

There appears to be no “exit clause” for WTO members. Even if a WTO member wishes to establish its own standards, it is compelled to adhere to the Codex framework — irrespective of acceptance.


Health and healthcare freedoms threatened

With the mainstream media currently vigorously lambasting alternative medicine and ignoring the new Codex guidelines, ill-informed consumers will no doubt embrace the new Codex rules, as many British Parliamentarians have already done, much to the disgust of millions of ordinary British citizens who rely on complementary medicine.

But Codex is more than just a series of onerous and restrictive guidelines. For millions of irate consumers throughout the US, Canada, the UK, the EU and now here in Australia and New Zealand, Codex represents the biggest threat to healthcare freedoms the world has ever known. Ironically, it has also served to unite concerned people everywhere in a way that has never been seen before. Such people are united in their discontent with a world that is for sale to the highest bidder, and a planet that is plundered every day by an elite handful of corporations — and governments that are powerless to stop them.

It’s a bittersweet irony that the Codex rules have not escaped criticism from those within its own structure. In 2003, the WHO and the FAO blasted the Commission’s methods and its guidelines on supplements. In a special report titled Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Disease, these two influential bodies slammed the adoption of the Western diet by the world’s poorer nations and, without mentioning Codex outright, recommended the use of specific nutrients (including those excluded from the Codex list) to help fight cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other illnesses stemming from a diet laced with flavour-enriched foods.

It’s a known fact that most people in the world do not have access to the “balanced diet” Codex talks about so passionately in the opening sentence of its Directive. Supplements and herbal alternatives are one way of alleviating many nutritional and health problems and, ultimately, easing the burden on struggling national health infrastructures. Not only is it irresponsible for one section of the global community to corner the world market in healthcare alternatives when nearly 3 billion people are forced to live on a dollar a day and when millions in the West suffer a range of debilitating conditions, it’s criminal.


What can we do?

When I first started researching and writing about Codex, depression threatened to set in. What could I, as an individual, do against such an apparently watertight piece of legislation?

Then I recalled the inspiring words of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968). When this great visionary accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on 10 December 1964, he uttered the electrifying words, “I still believe that we shall overcome”, referring to the tyranny of one section of the human race over another. Former South African President and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela echoed a similar sentiment many years later with the belief that when a people decide they want to be free, nothing on earth can stop them.

Don’t let Codex stop us. For the latest information on Codex, contact the following activist groups:

Alliance For Health Freedom Australia:

Alliance for Natural Health (UK):


Claire Porter has been an investigative journalist for 30 years and has worked for international newspapers and magazines throughout Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia. She has also worked as a senior public relations consultant specialising in municipal and state government affairs.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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