Baby Milk Action supporters will be aware that EU Legislation on baby food marketing fails to meet WHO marketing requirements However in terms of food safety and Human Rights, EU laws are some of the world’s strongest and at Codex meetings where global trading standards are set, EU delegates fight hard to maintain them.
For this reason, I should outline the risks to health of the UK relying only on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and possibly harmonising with weak food safety and agriculture policies now being pushed by the United States of America.
The WTO (1) was established in 1995, specifically outside the United Nations (UN) system with no direct obligation to take into consideration the Declaration of Human Rights (which all UN bodies must do). Yes, WTO must, respect the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) and in the event of a trade dispute, it is mandated to refer to Codex Alimentarius standards. But it is essentially the lowest common denominator to do trade in 21st Century.
If the UK breaks ‘free’ from the safeguards that are embedded in EU laws and Treaties – safeguards that a US spokesperson described as being a “Museum of Agriculture” approach – the UK will inevitably come under pressure to strike a deal with the US and lower our standards.
We (IBFAN) have attended Codex every year since 1995 in order to strengthen Codex standards and bring them into line with WHO recommendations. In my experience the UK rarely speaks up for health at these meetings.
So this doesn’t bode well. One issue that has received little attention is the new threat of Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR). The EU phased out the routine use of antibiotic growth promoters between 1997 & 2006 ( a new EU law will come into effect in 2022). Cruel intensive farming practices that pack animals together in order to cut costs and increase profits rely on routine antibiotic use, and this practice is now being linked to AMR.
Small wonder that this is a trade issue that is currently being hotly debated at Codex. The WHO Director-General’s Report states that only 64 countries have limited the use of critically important antimicrobials (human and animal) for growth promotion in animal food production. Without effective action at national and global level, common infections and minor injuries – the kinds of things we have been able to treat for decades – will emerge as killers once more.
The UK claims to be taking a lead on AMR but seems to be focusing on a public private partnership approach with the Pharmaceutical industry. At the January WHO Executive Board meeting I asked the UK delegation several times: “In a ‘no deal’ scenario, will the UK government side with the US and countries who want to continue using anti-biotics in animal husbandry – or will it support WHO, the EU and others that are pushing for stricter Codex guidelines?” I never got an answer.
Cóilín Nunan of the Alliance to Save our Anti-biotics highlights the weakness of the UK on this aspect of the AMR problem.
“The Government must commit to banning preventative group treatments. The latest data shows that the UK farming industry is making good progress in reducing its antibiotic use, and the poultry industry has even voluntarily banned group prevention. If the government rejects the EU ban, the UK could end up with some of the weakest regulatory standards in Europe, which will raise questions about the kinds of trade deals we will be seeking with non-EU countries that often use much higher levels of antibiotics in farming. Importing low-quality meat produced with high levels of antibiotics will inevitably undermine UK progress.”
In June 2018, Ted McKinney, US -Under Secretary of State for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs illustrated the backward stand being taken on the AMR issue by the US on this issue. McKinney was invited to address the meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). CAC is the body that adopts the final texts and standards. After stressing how much he loved Codex, the importance of ‘science’ and sticking to the ‘rules’, McKinney said that Codex was at a crossroads and needed to keep itself relevant for its ‘customers’ (the corporations). He feared that these ‘customers’ would ignore Codex if the standards were affected by political, national/regional concerns, concerns that – although important – are not in the ‘purview’ of Codex.
Why Strong Codex Standards are needed
Strong health protective Codex standards make the adoption and retention of good national laws easier. IBFAN has, since 1995, attended Codex meetings every year with the aim of helping to bring Codex Standards, as far as possible, into line with the World Health Assembly recommendations. Our aim is to protect breastfeeding but also to ensure that infants who have a “medically indicated or social” need for artificial feeding also receive adequate consumer protection (for example, that products contain appropriate nutrients and minimal additives and contaminants and informative labelling).
Unlike WHO, Codex has a dual mandate: to protect consumers and facilitate fair trade – two aims that often conflict – especially when meetings are dominated by powerful corporations and the industrialised countries that protect their interests.
Agenda Item 5.8. Anti-Microbial resistance
As an NGO that has attended Codex meetings for more than 20 years, IBFAN is pleased that WHO is providing evidence to support the strengthening of Codex trading standards and texts to minimize and contain antimicrobial resistance throughout the animal and food chain, including through processing. We hope that all Member States will recognize that this is a threat to global health security that no country can eliminate on its own and that there are inevitable implications for global trade. Codex is a difficult fora that is dominated by powerful corporations and industrialised countries that protect their interests. WHO needs to be there and strong to protect the global health goal in these complex negotiations
Among the many factors that increase the risk of AMR are poor animal husbandry and crop management, pharmaceutical promotion and over the counter sales that encourage inappropriate use of anti-biotics. We note (in the Director-General’s Report) that only 64 countries have limited the use of critically important antimicrobials (human and animal) for growth promotion in animal food production.
Strong health care systems, cross agency action, surveillance and regulation of all the industries involved is clearly essential. However, care must be taken to ensure that any public private collaborations do not muddy the waters, slow everything down and lead to weaker controls and action. There is evidence that a higher dependence on the private health sector and higher density of private health clinics is associated with increased AMR due to frequent overuse of antibiotics.
Lastly, we support the efforts to promote WASH components within National Action Plans to reduce the incidence of infections. WASH, alongside stricter marketing regulations will protect breastfeeding – a practice that is critically important in reducing the incidence of infections in infants and young children. Thank you
(1) WTO agreements cover trade in goods, services, traded inventions, creations and designs (intellectual property)
(2) EU policy – though strengthened over the years, allows unlimited promotion for products for babies over 6 months. Baby Milk Action IBFAN UK EU Chronology 1981-2018
(3) While governments have a sovereign right and duty to bring in legislation to protect health, they can face challenges when doing so.
Baby Milk Action has taken part in several consultations on the implications of Brexit. Below are some of out submissions;