IBFAN and partner NGOs at the CODEX Food Labelling Committee 45th CCFL, 13-17th May, 2019, Ottawa, Canada

I will be posting a longer report soon, but in summary, this was a very successful week.  The Bio-fortification definition was not agreed – indeed all the Member States that spoke on this topic were not happy with it – recognising its risks –  so it will not be discussed at Codex again.  The Cross Promotion sentence proposed for Follow-up formula labelling, that the US and several other Member States wanted deleted, was not and will be sent back to the Nutrition committee in Germany for further discussion.

The draft report prepared by Codex is HERE

For the meeting this week, I wore the hat of European Network of Childbirth Associations (ENCA) The IBFAN team – Betty Sterken and Imainly covered the following  topics.

  1. Stopping the adoption of the misleading and highly promotional definition for   ‘Biofortification’ it is unnecessary, misleading and pure marketing
  2. Strengthening the labelling of follow-up formulas –  specifically  protecting the ban on Cross Promotion (proposed at last year’s nutrition meeting (CCNFSDU) using WHO new paper an IBFAN 2018 FUF COMMENT
  3. Calling for the labelling of FUF  to mirror the labelling in the Codex Infant Formula Standard  (9.6.1.c)  “a statement that the product should only be used on advice of a independent health worker as to the need for its use and the proper method of use.(1)
  4. Working closely with NGOs from Mexico, Australia, Canada and US we aim to strengthen the Front of Pack Labelling proposals (Codex FOPNL CSO Statement )


Baby Milk Action Notes on the process so far on the proposed definition of  Biofortification

IBFAN’s 2018 comment

The Nutrition meeting in Berlin last year (CCNFSDU) decided to hold the work at Step 4, and to forward the definition (see Appendix II below)) to the Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL) with a request:

  1. To consider if the definition would meet their intended needs; and
  2. To clarify the intended use of the definition and where the definition would be best placed.

Points to note

IBFAN is calling for the work on the definition to be stopped – it is unnecessary, misleading and pure marketing.

Participants are forbidden from recording the proceedings of the CCNFSDU when it sits in Germany. [1] As a consequence the report writing is a tortuous procedure – full of  claims and counter claims of what was or was not said. There is a distinct bias in favour of the definition and none of the critical NGOs were called to speak during the debate. The NGOs promoting the definition (Harvest Plus) was given the floor several times and kept suggesting that consensus had been reached.  Only after several complaints from those Member States and NGOs opposing the definition was the following text (Para 80)  inserted into the report (our emphasis)

–     The proposed definition is not clear. Conformity with the definition could not be verified as there were no criteria for measuring or expressing “significant amounts increased” stated in the definition. The absence of means to verify the compliance of labelled products made the definition impossible to realise and would create confusion to consumers.

–     The proposed draft definition was too broad, and would allow the inclusion of genetically modified organisms; and this would thus lead to deception of consumers.

–     The lack of a harmonized approach due to substantial flexibility could undermine the value of this work.

–     The term “bio” was exclusively dedicated to organic production in some countries and therefore the introduction of the term biofortification, which included foods not produced organically, would be problematic; and that no single alternative/equivalent term had been identified.

–     Without answering the questions from CCEXEC70 as to where the definition would be best placed and how it would be used, the Committee was not in a position to make further progress.

IBFAN made additional points in its written comments:

  • It is not a sufficient safeguard to simply permit other promotional terms such as agro-fortification  (which this paper refers to as ‘equivalent’) whilst still permitting the term biofortification in the global trading context.
  • Biofortification is not a solution to address malnutrition. Malnutrition is rarely the result of a deficiency of a single or a select few micronutrients. Inadequate diets generally result in multiple nutrient deficiencies. A single nutrient approach can run counter to national nutrition policies and UN recommendations for diversified food-based approach to addressing malnutrition.
  • The term “biofortification” is promotional and should therefore be considered a nutrient claim, hence a marketing tool. Biofortification, especially of staple crops, has a negative impact on biodiversity, reduces the variety of crops cultivated and increases the use of large scale centralized agricultural industries, while diminishing the capacities of local small scale farming and fisheries.
  • Biofortification is a costly technology that will be controlled by the global agricultural inputs industries. Its widespread use will have economic and social consequences by increasing the nutrition gap between the poor and those who can afford a healthy diversified diet.
  • There is no reference by which to define “by a measurable level” or “become more bioavailable”. What criteria are used for these terms? Any amount is measurable.

Appendix 11.  Proposed draft definition for biofortification

Biofortification1 is any process2 other than conventional nutrient addition to food3 whereby nutrient content is increased or become more bioavailable in all potential food sources4 for the intended nutritional purposes5.

1) Some Member governments may prefer to use an equivalent term.

2) Process to be determined by the competent national/regional authority

3) Conventional nutrient addition to food is covered by the General principles for the addition of essential nutrients to foods (CXG 9-1987)

4) e.g. animal, plant, fungi, yeasts, bacteria

5) Nutritional purpose:

– Preventing/reducing the risk of, or correcting, a demonstrated deficiency in the population;

– Reducing the risk of, or correcting, inadequate nutritional status or intakes in the population;

– Meeting requirements and/or recommended intakes of one or more nutrients;

– Maintaining or improving health; and/or

– Maintaining or improving the nutritional quality of food.


[1] There seems to be no legal basis for this decision made by successive CCNFSDU Chairs.

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