Dr. Rath Health Foundation

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Codex Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements:

The Controversy Continues

By Paul Anthony Taylor

November 2004 – During the first week of November the so-called ‘Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses’ (CCNFSDU) met again in Bonn, Germany to discuss their controversial Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements. As widely predicted the Committee agreed to complete their deliberations on this occasion and to advance the Guidelines for adoption at Step 8, which is effectively the final stage in the process. As a result of this decision the Guidelines will now be considered at a meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, due to take place in Rome in July 2005, in order for the text to be ratified and adopted as a newly agreed global standard.

The history of the Guidelines

The Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements have been under discussion at Codex since the 1990s, and were originally intended to limit the maximum amounts of all vitamins and minerals contained in supplements to RDA levels only. This proposal, predictably, had caused widespread outrage amongst consumers when it first emerged. At its meeting in November 2003 however, following persistently vehement opposition from Dr. Rath and the global health freedom movement, the CCNFSDU finally gave in and decreed that the maximum levels would instead be determined by scientific risk assessment. Ominously however, and in a sign of things to come, the Guidelines were also advanced from Step 3 to Step 5 of the 8-step Codex approval process at this same meeting.

Following a subsequent meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission that took place in Geneva from 28 th June to 3rd July 2004 the Guidelines were then further advanced to Step 7 of the process - only a hair’s breadth from completion. It was with this background in mind therefore that 280 delegates, observers and advisors representing 62 Member countries and 25 International Non-Governmental Organisations assembled at the Bruckenforum in Bonn for this years meeting.

The influence of the EU and the bias of the Chairman

The discussions that took place at this years meeting in Bonn essentially followed the same pattern as those of last year, in that the Chairman of the Committee, Dr. Rolf Grossklaus, once again appeared to show a clear preference and bias towards the demands of the delegate from the EU Commission, Mr. Basil Mathioudakis. Whenever there was disagreement amongst the Committee over any aspect of the text, for example, Dr. Grossklaus unfailingly came down clearly and unequivocally on the side of Mr. Mathioudakis and the EU. As a result some parts of the Codex Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements now bear a very strong resemblance to sections of the equally controversial EU Food Supplements Directive.

Inaccuracies in the official Codex meeting report

The official reports that are released following Codex meetings are not always strictly accurate, and frequently do not reflect either the discussions that took place or the manner in which things were ‘decided’. Unsurprisingly therefore there are several instances in this years CCNFSDU report of events being rewritten to give the illusion of democracy during the meeting.

For example, the report states that the Committee decided to focus its discussions on those sections of the Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements that were contained in square brackets. However, because the sections in square brackets were merely those few sentences that could not be agreed by the Committee at their previous meeting this decision was a particularly crucial one, as it had the effect of severely limiting the scope of the discussions that took place. In reality though, and what the report did not say, was that at the start of the meeting the Chairman, Dr. Grossklaus, had actually instructed the Committee that the discussion should focus on those parts of the text that were still in square brackets. As a result therefore the Committee was not allowed any choice in the matter, and whenever anybody tried to open up discussion on controversial areas of the text that were not in square brackets Dr. Grossklaus simply prevented them from doing so.

Similarly, the report also states that the Committee, “recognizing that considerable progress had been made on the text, agreed to advance the Draft Guidelines for adoption at Step 8 by the 28th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.” In fact however, what actually occurred was that Dr. Grossklaus said that he wanted to advance the Guidelines for adoption at Step 8, and the Committee were once again not given an opportunity to discuss the matter.

Worse still however, some important discussions that took place during the meeting are not even mentioned in the report. The National Health Federation (NHF), for example, who are the only consistently pro-health freedom non-governmental organization attending Codex, had specifically requested during the meeting that it should be stated either in the text of the Guidelines or in the report itself whether or not it was mandatory for countries to implement the Guidelines. Dr. Jeronimas Maskeliunas answered the NHF’s question on behalf of the Codex Secretariat, and stated that all documents that the Committee is elaborating are "not mandatory." He also stated that "member countries decide how to use them." The NHF therefore requested that this should be stated in the report.

When the draft report was distributed on the final day of the meeting however there was no mention to be found in it of either the NHF’s question or Dr. Maskeliunas’ answer. The NHF therefore raised this with the Chairman, and made repeated requests to him to include mention of this important issue in the official report to be released following the meeting. Nevertheless, Dr. Grossklaus refused to allow this, saying that it was not mandatory for him to heed such requests . As far as the report is concerned therefore it is as if this vital matter had not even been discussed.

The Concept of a 'Framework' Document

The Guidelines that were passed in Bonn will not immediately ban natural therapies and Cellular Medicine however. Because of the tremendous opposition to these Guidelines the text that was agreed in Bonn this year is only a ‘framework’ document, and will not set any of the more controversial aspects of the Guideline that the Codex Alimentarius Commission would originally like to have had included. For example, the maximum levels to be permitted in vitamin and mineral supplements will now be set separately at a later, currently unspecified, date. Similarly, and unlike the EU Food Supplements Directive, the Guideline does not contain a list of permitted nutrient sources (the so-called ‘positive list’) and nor was any language added to the text this year to allow for the later addition of such a list.

As such, the Codex Alimentarius Commission are clearly hoping that consumers will be lulled into a false sense of security when they learn that the completed Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements will not immediately ban natural therapies and Cellular Medicine. Nevertheless it is now clear that t he overall plan is to add the most controversial aspects of the vitamin and mineral restrictions one step at a time, in the hope that if the Codex Alimentarius Commission proceeds slowly enough consumers will not be roused into any significant forms of opposition until it is too late.

FAO/WHO nutrient risk assessment project

On the subject of the risk analysis process that will be used to set the maximum levels, it is interesting to note that the World Health Organization (WHO) representative stated during the Codex meeting that the WHO were in favor of moving from a non-nutrient approach to a nutrient-appropriate approach. On the face of it this is good news, because as we know nutrients are not poisons and they are absolutely essential for life. Nevertheless we should not be fooled by this rhetoric, and nor should we be lulled into any false sense of security over it.

In September 2004 for example the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the WHO announced a joint nutrient risk assessment project intended to define a “scientifically-based” and “internationally applicable” approach for nutrient risk assessment. The aim of the project is described as being to provide scientific advice on the principles and methodologies to be used in conducting risk assessments for nutrients and related substances.

However, because the FAO and the WHO are the joint administrators of the Codex Alimentarius Commission the results of their nutrient risk assessment project will be hugely influential upon the maximum levels to be recommended by Codex in connection with the Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements. Worryingly therefore, the background paper published by the FAO/WHO when the project was announced tends to suggest that the published Opinions of the EU Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) will be very influential upon the outcome of the FAO/WHO risk assessment work. This does nothing to inspire confidence in the FAO/WHO nutrient risk assessment project, as many of the SCF’s published Opinions run completely contrary to not only the principles of Cellular Medicine but also to common sense itself. The SCF’s opinion on vitamin B3 for example suggests that the Upper Safe Level of niacin should be set at only 10mg, an amount that is just over half of the EU RDA.

Clearly therefore we must view the FAO/WHO nutrient risk assessment project with a healthy dose of scepticism.

More delegations supporting South Africa

On a brighter note however, South Africa, who in recent years have been the only consistently pro-health freedom national delegation attending Codex, received a great deal of support at this years meeting not just from the NHF but also from the national delegations of India, Tanzania. Ghana, and Zimbabwe. This was an important breakthrough because although the number of pro-health freedom delegations attending Codex meetings remains small it is at least finally beginning to grow. As such, whilst there still remains much work to be done in this area in order to convince further countries to argue in favor of health freedom at Codex it is now becoming increasingly clear that in this respect the tide is very slowly beginning to turn in our favor.

South Africa retained Chairmanship of NRVs Working Group

Another positive outcome from this years Codex meeting was that South Africa managed to retain the Chairmanship of the working group that will be setting the new nutrient reference values (NRVs). The South African delegation have consistently drawn attention to the fact that the traditional RDA approach to nutrition does not promote optimum health, and they will now be arguing for the NRVs to be set at levels which take into account the prevention and reduction of diseases and the maintenance of an optimum nutritional status.

The working group will now therefore be continuing its work, and amongst other things will be establishing the scientific basis upon which the NRVs will be set, the range of nutrients to be included and the criteria for their selection.

Conclusion

Although the text of the Codex Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements has now been completed, its most important aspects have still to be determined.

Moreover, whilst the Codex Alimentarius Commission are obviously keen to promote the idea that the maximum levels will be set scientifically there are now very good grounds to believe that the process involved in doing so will be subject to undue influence from the EU and the pharmaceutical-medical orthodoxy, who will doubtlessly be doing everything that they can to ensure that the maximum levels are set as low as possible.

We already know from the text of the Guidelines, for example, that the maximum levels will be set by taking into account the daily intake from other dietary sources. In other words, when setting the maximum levels it is likely that the nutrient intake from food will be deducted from the levels that are set by the scientific risk assessment process. It is not difficult to predict therefore that the nutrient levels that we are supposedly getting from our food will be calculated to be as high as possible, despite the fact that scientific research has repeatedly shown that the mineral content of our fruits and vegetables has been falling worldwide for over half a century.

Similarly the text of the Guidelines also states that when setting the maximum levels account should also be taken of the reference intake values of vitamins and minerals for the population. This therefore raises the worrying possibility that regulators will be able to use the low levels that have been established in population reference values to still further reduce the maximum levels in their own individual countries.

Clearly therefore the controversy surrounding the Codex Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements seems set to continue for some time to come. Whilst some groups are already falsely claiming that consumers will benefit from the finalization of the Codex Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements it is now increasingly clear that such claims are not based upon the true facts. We must all now therefore remain vigilant, and each and every one of us must do everything that we can to protect the future of Cellular Medicine and natural therapies both for ourselves and for future generations.