Why ‘No Deal’ would be a disaster for human health.
While EU Legislation on baby food marketing fails to meet WHO marketing requirements on several important areas (1) in terms of food safety and Human Rights, EU laws are some of the world’s strongest and European Parliamentarians and delegates fight hard to maintain and strengthen them, including at Codex meetings where global trading standards.
If the UK breaks ‘free’ from EU laws and Treaties – it will not benefit from the safeguards that are embedded in its laws – 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.
World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules are essentially the lowest common denominator to do trade in 21st Century. The WTO (2) 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. Unlike the World Health Organisation (WHO), the world’s highest health policy setting body, Codex has a dual mandate: to protect the health of the consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade. Unfortunately Codex meetings are dominated by powerful food and agro-chemical industries and the industrialised countries such as the United States that so often protect their interests instead of public health.
Baby Milk Action – IBFAN UK has attended Codex nutrition meetings every year since 1995 in order to strengthen Codex standards, bring them into line with WHO recommendations. This will help all governments adopt and retain good national laws without challenge. (3) Worryingly, the UK often ‘sits on the fence’ at Codex. We will be attending the Codex Commission meeting in July and the Nutrition meeting in November.
What does this mean for child health?
There are many differences between EU and US standards, reflecting a totally different approach to food quality, safety and marketing. The US opposes the Precautionary Principle (PP) and requires evidence of harm before regulating and preventing a product being placed on the market. The US relies heavily on consumers taking legal action if they can prove that the product has caused harm. In the EU the PP is embedded in legislation, so when actions are at risk of causing “serious or irreversible” harm to the natural environment, marketers are expected to step back and choose a different route.
The First Steps Nutrition Trust outlines what this means in relation to the labelling and composition of infant formula, where US milks have higher levels of sucrose and many other risky ingredients. US milks can be made from milk from cows where recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), a synthetic growth hormone, has been used, and this would not be identifiable on labels.
IBFAN’s aim is not just to protect breastfeeding but to ensure that infants who need to be artificially fed are protected and that baby food products contain appropriate nutrients, minimal additives and contaminants and informative labelling.
EFSA notice regarding a No Deal withdrawal:
NOTICE TO STAKEHOLDERS: WITHDRAWAL OF THE UNITED KINGDOM AND EU FOOD LAW AND EU RULES ON QUALITY SCHEMES1 https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/eu_food_law_en.pdf
“..Subject to the transition period provided for in the draft Withdrawal Agreement, as of the withdrawal date, EU food law and EU rules on quality schemes [will] no longer apply to the United Kingdom.
Anti Microbial Resistance and trade:
Another critically important issue that is being discussed at Codex is the new threat of Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR). This is closely linked to the use of growth hormones and routine use of antibiotics in intensive farming where animals are packed together to cut costs. The EU phased out the routine use of antibiotic growth promoters between 1997 & 2006 ( a new EU law will come into effect in 2022) so is having to defend these higher standards at Codex. 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. It is not clear whether the UK would support the EU or the US in relation to a ban on antibiotic use in animal husbandry. 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 2019 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.
(1) 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
(2) WTO agreements cover trade in goods, services, traded inventions, creations and designs (intellectual property)
(3) While governments have a sovereign right and duty to bring in legislation to protect health, they can face challenges when doing so.