Report from the Codex Commission meeting in Rome  – 2-6th July 2018

The Final Report of this meeting is  has now been published  CLICK HERE

The 41st meeting of the  WHO/FAO Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) – the UN body that sets standards for the global trade of foods and commodities – met in Rome  from 2-6th July.  The mandate of Codex is ostensibly to protect consumer health and facilitate fair trade practices, however, these aims are continually threatened  by the commercial and political interests of producer countries, and the Conflict of Interest rules that do not safeguard these aims effectively.

The Rome meeting kicked off with a speech from Ted McKinney, US -Under Secretary of State for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs (see weblink –  archives, Session 1: 23 minutes in).   After stressing how much he loved Codex and the importance of ‘science’ and sticking to the  ‘rules’, McKinney said that Codex was at a crossroads, and that it needs to keep itself relevant for its  ‘customers’ (the corporations). He feared they would ignore Codex if the standards were affected by  political,  national/regional concerns, concerns that – although important – are not in the purview of Codex.  The speech is amazing and is worth deconstructing.  Are the problems that women face when bottlefeeding in poor resourced areas a ‘regional’ concern I wonder?   And what ‘science’ would McKinney approve of and how does he interpret rules?

Like all observers (the vast majority are industry front groups) we are asked to speak only after Member States – so in this meeting its difficult to affect the course of the debate.  Nevertheless IBFAN made several important  interventions, which, when it came to the report writing on the last day,  the US tried (unsuccessfully) to have deleted or weakened. Here is a summary of the interventions we made:

Agenda Item 2.  Report of the 74th and 75th Executive  Committee:  (Plenary session 2 (0.47). IBFAN has called for the protection of science from undue influence for many years and more emphasis on Independently funded science.  There should be consistency in Codex  texts, removing meaningless  industry terms such as  “History of Safe Use.’ The fact that decisions are taken on the basis of consensus – rather than verifiable evidence –  risks consumer confidence and the  credibility of all Codex work. 
Agenda item 5.  Adoption of Codex Texts at Step 5:  IBFAN expressed strong opposition to the adoption at Step 5 of the Essential composition section  of the Follow-up Formulas Standard ahead of the preamble and labelling sections.  IBFAN said the products are not necessary and their promotion creates  risks for child health and survival, undermining breastfeeding and fuelling the obesity crisis. IBFAN had wanted the standard revoked, and is concerned that step 5 will be used to increase promotion of products detrimental to child health.
Agenda 11   In relation to Codex claim to be transparent and efforts to encourage the active engagement of consumers, IBFAN asked for clarification on whether  EWG and other documents can be shared and summarised.
Agenda 12; Regular Review of Codex work (Plenary session 6 (1.35) :   IBFAN asked CAC to look at the lack of transparency in the CCNFSDU where even recording that would enable checking of what is said is forbidden. CAC could recommend the meetings are webcast or held in UN buildings.  This affects the nature of the meetings, where there are very few consumer delegates, and the Private Sector dominates, not just as observers, but with public badges, many  sitting on Government delegations – sometimes even speaking for them.  While countries may find this useful there is a big  risks of undue influence. Perhaps the CAC could provide good practice guidance to Member States. This is important when there is disagreement about whether an item is a health or a trade issue and whether WHO recommendations should be referenced clearly as the majority of countries want in order to protect infant health and prevent suffering from inappropriate products.   IBFAN asked whether CAC considered it appropriate for Codex to be working on products such as  RUTF that should not be ‘on sale’. 
Agenda Item 15:  Matters arising from FAO and WHO: In relation to Climate Change IBFAN mentioned the inherent risk of Codex in encouraging global trade. The over emphasis on single nutrients and involvement of transnational countries can be problematic,  leading to mono cropping, degradation of soil quality and the undermining of bio-diverse and more culturally appropriate foods. The WHO GWP cites the importance of conflict of interest safeguards and breastfeeding.
Agenda Item 16 IBFAN expressed alarm that one country should seek to prevent mention of the widespread concern in the room about the risks of harmful foods.  A strong message from CAC could have global impact.
Agenda Item 17:   Trust Fund – IBFAN welcomed confirmation that  funding from the private sector would not be allowed for CTF2. IBFAN feared that such funding would place pressure on countries to alter their positions.
Here are some key webcasts
2nd July Monday morning   CAC41 – Plenary Session 1  . Ted McKinney, US Under Secretary of State for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs speaks around 22 minutes from the beginning – after Mrs Maria Helena Semedo, FAO and Soumya Swaminatha, WHO.

Friday 6th July CAC41 – Adoption of the report This was a long session where several times the US tried and failed to remove the references to my interventions.  Move to 5 hours 38 minutes to watch the US trying to remove references to foods high in salt, sugar and fat WHO’s statement.

I also attended several  side events:
CAC41 Side event: The International Food Safety Authorities Network – Codex and Recent Major Food Safety Events
This side event will provide participants with an overview of INFOSAN by discussing two recent and significant global food safety […]
CAC41 Side Event: Facilitating Safe Trade: Experiences and Lessons from STDF Work
The Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) supports farmers, processors, traders and governments in developing countries to meet international standards […]

CAC41 Side event: Food Integrity and Food Authenticity: a way forward (NGO panel discussion)
Adulteration of food poses an increasing threat to food safety, quality and fair trade at international level.  While the subject […]

CAC41 Side Event: The Scientific Basis of Codex – How Does It Work?
To foster better understanding of how FAO and WHO are providing scientific support for the development of Codex Standards. This […]

The draft report is HERE
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