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Date: Wed, 1 Nov 1995 23:50:51 GMT
Reply-To: Rich Winkel <rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu>
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
From: Rich Winkel <rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu>
Organization: PACH
Subject: How TNCs Influence Global Food Standards
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>

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** Topic: How TNCs influence global food std **
** Written 10:47 AM Oct 26, 1995 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
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How TNCs Influence Global Food Standards

By Natalie Avery, Third World Network Features, 24 October 1995

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, claims, 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 Monitor, 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. Some countries have found it convenient to adopt Codex standards, explains Martine Drake of the UK’s Food Commission. However, 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 governments. 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: The 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 necessary and based on 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, It 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, Experience shows 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 health.

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, the 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 regulatory 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 experts.

Between 1989 and 1991, 30 Nestl experts participated on national delegations, 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. It’s much 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 (JMPR). Almost all the data used is provided by industry, says Dooms. The need to have an immediate dialogue with industry is obvious.

A Nestl spokesperson was more forthcoming on the issue of industry participation in a 24 April 1993 interview with the New Scientist magazine, saying, 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 Monitor, 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, Public 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, If Codex is to have credibility, its committees and procedures must be changed to allow public interest groups a full role in decision making.

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, says, 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 protection. 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.