Date: Wed, 1 Nov 1995 23:50:51 GMT
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From: Rich Winkel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: How TNCs Influence Global Food Standards
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** Topic: How TNCs influence global food std **
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How TNCs influence global food std ---------- */
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How TNCs influence global food std ---------- */
HOW COMPANIES INFLUENCE GLOBAL FOOD STANDARDS
The author says that the food industry plays a major role in setting international food standards. This role will become further entrenched with the GATT calling for international harmonisation of food standards under the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
There is one thing that those participating in the contentious General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations over rules governing trade in food and agriculture seem to agree upon -- if world food trade is to expand, nations must be required to harmonise on as wide a basis as possible food safety and quality standards. This will allow food companies to adhere to one set of international rules instead of adjusting to a diverse array of national standards. International harmonisation of food standards will undoubtedly facilitate the expansion of world trade. This, say GATT supporters, will allow consumers around the world greater choice of lower-priced food products.
Many public interest advocates and environmentalists, however, disagree with this assessment. Harmonisation of food standards, they argue, will lead to lower safety standards in many countries and undermine future national attempts to raise standards. One of the primary concerns raised by these public interest advocates is the new role carved out for the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an obscure United Nations (UN) body established 20 years ago. The agreement assigns Codex the formidable role of setting international food standards to which GATT member countries will harmonise their own national standards. Many assert that Codex is likely to put the interests of the food industry over those of consumers.
For example, Tim Lang, director of the UK-based Parents for Safe Food,
With an increased role for Codex under GATT , nations will
effectively hand a great deal of control over the regulation of food
safety and quality to global trade and corporate interests.
According to Cracking the Codex, a recently issued report co-authored
by Lang for the UK’s National Food Alliance and endorsed by 47
public interest groups from around the world, representatives from
industry associations and agrochemical and food corporations play a
substantial role in setting international food standards. Public
interest advocates, in contrast, play a minimal role.
This imbalance appears to be reflected in the standards set by
Codex. Food policy expert Dr Erik Millstone of the Science Policy
Research Unit at the University of Sussex told the Multinational
If we look at the judgements Codex has made in the last 20
years, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that (it has)
repeatedly favoured commercial and industrial interests rather than
giving the benefit of the doubt to consumers.
An inter-governmental body, Codex was jointly established in 1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), to coordinate international food safety and quality standards. Codex founders hoped that food exporters would eventually follow only one set of internationally accepted standards. This would simplify import and export procedures, and thus facilitate the expansion of world trade.
For 30 years, Codex member governments have met in two-year cycles, participating in committees which propose standards for specific areas of the food trade such as labelling, pesticide residues and additives. National delegations to the Codex may include industry representatives, consumer group members, independent scientists—in short, anyone a government wants to include on a delegation may attend. UN-recognised organisations and industry federations may also attend Codex meetings as International Observers.
At an International Organisation of Consumers’ Union (IOCU)
Conference in May 1992, Alan Randell of the Codex Secretariat noted,
It (Codex) is the only international organisation in the food trade
that brings together government regulators, scientists, consumers and
industry representatives in both official and advisory capacities to
develop standards for food manufacturing and trade.
Codex has set standards for 230 food commodities, and has made
recommendations for several hundred pesticides and additives. In this
sense it has lived up to the expectations of its founders. However,
member nations have not widely accepted Codex standards.
countries have found it convenient to adopt Codex standards,
explains Martine Drake of the UK’s Food Commission.
replacing national standards with Codex ones has generally not been a
priority for most nations.
Governments are currently neither obliged nor directly pressured to
adopt Codex-recommended standards, but that may soon change. New rules
carved out in the Uruguay Round of the GATT and in negotiations of
other trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA) give the organisation unprecedented influence over
Efforts to increase harmonisation of food safety
standards, in the words of a US proposal, have become an integral
part of the GATT agenda.
Under proposed GATT rules, national food standards set more strictly
than those set by Codex could be considered illegal barriers to trade
if they affect imports. Gretchen Stanton, counsellor of the GATT
secretariat, explained the rules to an IOCU conference in 1992:
basic premise is: if a country restricts and claims this restriction
is for protection of health, this has to be proved.
Any nation choosing to set a standard higher than an existing Codex
standard could be required to prove its validity to a GATT panel. This
panel of trade experts— meeting in secret—would decide if
the food standard in question was
sound scientific evidence or if it constituted an
unnecessary barrier to trade. The proposed GATT draft does not
allow governments to cite environmental or animal welfare protections
as justifications for stricter standards.
Nations which fail to justify a standard to the satisfaction of a GATT
panel could then be subjected to retaliatory trade measures, or
alternately, required to pay compensation to exporter nations affected
by the higher standard. Dr Melanie Miller, a food policy expert who at
one time represented IOCU in Codex meetings, told the Monitor,
will be very difficult for nations to maintain standards higher than
Codex if they affect trade.
Many argue that these fears could be unfounded and that harmonisation
could offer the opportunity to raise standards to the highest
level. Countering such assertions Miller explains,
that harmonisation usually means lowering of standards.
Harmonisation of food standards in the European Community (EC), for
example, will increase the permitted list of additives in every EC
country. The number of additives allowed in Germany and Greece will
more than double, and the range of foods which can contain additives
will increase substantially.
In the process of harmonising food
standards in the EC, the interests of food and chemical
manufacturing, Miller says,
were given precedence over public
Many Codex standards are lower than national ones, thus harmonisation
proposed in the GATT treaty would be a real set-back for activists who
have fought to improve standards on a national level. For example,
Codex allows residues of some of the most hazardous pesticides in the
world, known as the
dirty dozen—DDT, Parathion, Paraquat,
drins (aldrin, dieldrin and endrin) and Lindane. Residues
of these pesticides are banned or strictly limited in many countries
of the world.
It’s not only the industrialised countries that have stricter
standards than Codex, Miller points out.
Many Third World
countries have banned pesticides allowed by Codex. For example, Codex
has set residue limits for the pesticide Lindane which is not
permitted in Bolivia, Ecuador, Egypt and Guatemala. Codex also
allows residues of five pesticides classified as human carcinogens by
the US Environmental Protection Agency. It permits 14 dyes which are
banned in Norway and nine banned in the United States.
There is much support within the food industry for the new role of
Codex. The internationalisation of food standards will help
corporations by streamlining export procedures and reining in what
many in the food industry have characterised as
excess. Furthermore, harmonisation will enable food and
agrochemical corporations to concentrate lobbying efforts at the
international level, instead of fighting off national regulation
efforts all over the globe. A Nestl spokesperson told the Monitor,
Globally speaking we support the new role for the Codex
Alimentarius Commission. After all we have to follow the rules.
Not only do the food and agro-chemical industries have to follow the
rules established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, they appear to
play a significant role in making them. In theory, Codex member
governments set international standards with the advice of all
interested parties, including consumer and industry groups. In
practice, consumer representatives are severely outnumbered by those
from industry. According to Cracking the Codex, between 1989 and 1991,
81% of non-governmental participants on national delegations came from
industry. Only 1% represented public interest groups.
The study examines participation on all Codex committees which met between 1989 and 1991, finding that industry representatives accounted for 26% of all participants on these committees. Industry participation increased on committees dealing with particularly controversial issues.
For example, one-third of the 387 participants in the two meetings of the Committee on Pesticide Residues were industry representatives, and 86 of these participants represented specific agrochemical and food companies; only three participants at these meetings represented public interest groups. Forty-one percent of the participants in the two meetings of the Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants were food industry representatives. On the Codex Committee for Nutrition and Special Dietary Uses, 47% of participants represented industry.
Industry representatives also outnumbered government representatives from many parts of the world. Between 1989 and 1991, 445 industry representatives participated on national delegations—outnumbering government and public interest group representatives from either Latin America or Africa. Total industry participation, including industry observers, reached 660 individuals, outnumbering government representation from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Eastern and Central Europe combined.
Food trade officials deny, however, that food companies are playing an
excessive role in setting Codex standards. A Nestl spokesperson, for
example, told the Monitor,
This is not true. Only governments can
be members of the Codex but they can ask for technical assistance from
industry. Being the largest food company in the world, it’s
perfectly logical that authorities ask for the assistance of Nestl
Between 1989 and 1991, 30 Nestl experts participated on national
providing technical assistance to
governments. Consequently, Nestl was better represented than most
national delegations at Codex meetings: only 22 of the 105 countries
that participated in Codex between 1989 and 1991 sent more than 30
representatives to Codex meetings.
The high level of Nestl representatives at Codex does not surprise
Patti Rundall of the UK-based Baby Milk Action.
easier for an enormously rich company like Nestl to send
representatives to Codex meetings, most of which take place in Europe
or North America, than it is for many public interest groups and
poorer nations in the South, Rundall points out.
Other industry representatives offer justifications for the high level
of food trade representative participation in the Codex
process. Andree Dooms of the European Crop Protection Association, a
pesticide manufacturers trade organisation, claims that large numbers
of industry representatives on Codex committees provide regulators
with ready access to scientific data. In setting pesticide standards,
for example, Codex committees often rely on data from a related
FAO/WHO body, the Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues
Almost all the data used is provided by industry, says
The need to have an immediate dialogue with industry is
A Nestl spokesperson was more forthcoming on the issue of industry
participation in a 24 April 1993 interview with the New Scientist
It seems to me that governments are more likely
to find qualified people in companies than among the self-appointed
ayatollahs of the food sector.
Dr Marvin Norcross of the US Department of Agriculture and US delegate
to the Codex Committee on Veterinary Drug Residues in Food told the
Many of the toxicologists and other scientists who
participate on US delegations are there because of their
expertise. They just happen to be from industry. Norcross says he
supports moves to increase consumer participation on delegations.
Many believe that public interest representatives have a role to play
in determining international food policy. Miller says,
interest groups campaigning to reform Codex recognise the need for
some industry representation and expertise on Codex and related
committees. The problem lies in the gross imbalance in the input of
industry compared to public interest groups. She concludes,
Codex is to have credibility, its committees and procedures must be
changed to allow public interest groups a full role in decision
Cracking the Codex calls for a thorough review of the Codex as well as
for substantial reforms. Martine Drake, a co-author of the report,
Many Codex members, along with the FAO and WHO, have
recognised that Codex must change in preparation for its new role,
especially in the area of consumer and developing country
participation. Yet the reforms they have so far proposed are
superficial. They fail to address the fundamental concerns many
consumers have in regard to Codex—like loss of democratic
control over the way national food standards are set and the
possibility that the large industry presence on Codex committees could
adversely influence Codex standards and procedures.
The report recommends that a high-level United Nations body undertake
a comprehensive review of Codex’s role in light of sustainable
development, public health and safety and environmental
In its current form, Jeanette Longfield, NGO
coordinator in the run-up to the WHO International Conference on
Nutrition in December 1992, says,
Codex will lead to unnecessary
downward pressure on future efforts by nations to set high food
standards. Already some nations are using Codex standards as an excuse
to downgrade standards.
Food standards should be set openly, their main purpose being the
protection of consumers and the environment. Individual nations should
not be obliged to sacrifice high standards in order to facilitate
world trade and the movement of global capital.