The American Holistic Health Association (AHHA) presents the following comments related to the Proposed Draft Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements on the Agenda for the 25th Session of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) to be held in Bonn, Germany, November 3-7, 2003.
The American Holistic Health Association (AHHA) takes the position that in its present form the Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements text is not going to achieve the expected goals.
In the mid-1990s, Codex Alimentarius signed agreementsi ii with the World Trade Organization (WTO) by which Codex creates trade standards that the WTO can use to resolve international trade disputes. In the case of most food commodities, these standards, or regulations, can be quite straightforward. Unfortunately, when it comes to vitamin and mineral supplements, there are many variables and exceptions. As Codex has jurisdiction over only some of the following key variables, it is not possible for Codex to present the WTO with one trade standard that could be applied to every nation.
Individual countries have national regulations that designate vitamin and mineral supplements in three different ways as:
· Food at a lower level; drugs at a higher level.
The same vitamin and mineral ingredients can be used in products for three different purposes:
· Diet supplementation
In addition to the fact that there are many variables and exceptions, the old Codex policies are no longer valid. The WTO has informed Codex that it does not differentiate between standards and guidelines.iii Further, the WTO has informed Codex that it does not recognize the Codex Levels of Acceptance options for individual nations. This means that all texts provided by Codex to WTO, no matter what they are labeled, can be used as mandatory international trade regulations to be applied to every nation.
For those who are still believe that the Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements document is optional, please refer to the following quote from the 1998 report of the Codex Committee on General Principles. “There are two basic groups of Codex texts known as ‘Guidelines.’ Those in the first group expand upon, interpret or provide information of the application of other Codex standards or texts; those in the second group are in the form of standards and could be used as such.”iv
Another indication of the WTO policy to treat both standards and guidelines the same is found in the WTO clarification statement to Codex “… how a Codex text was applied depended on its substantive content rather than the category of that text.” This verifies that, as far as the WTO is concerned, categorizing a Codex text as a guideline does not differentiate it from a standard. And only the WTO has enforcement power.
When asked, most CCNFSDU members report that the original charge by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) to their committee was to draft optional guidelines for vitamin and mineral supplements. These CCNFSDU delegates continue to make decisions related to the Guidelines based on this premise. In this context, a set of optional guidelines can appropriately allow exceptions, such as excluding countries that regulate vitamin and mineral supplements as drugs. However, since that original CAC assignment, Codex aligned with the WTO and the new WTO interpretations took precedence. Review of the Draft Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements text in light of the more recent WTO involvement reveals that this is not a document that can function as a mandatory standard to be applied by WTO to every nation.
Once the CCNFSDU acknowledges that creating an all-encompassing international trade standard for vitamin and mineral supplements is not feasible, it can focus its efforts to fulfill the CAC charge to provide optional safety guidelines related to vitamin and mineral supplements. AHHA offers the following three interrelated suggestions:
Explore the WTO’s clarification that application of a Codex text depends on content. Add specific language to the Guidelines text stating that this document is to be applied only as an optional advisory text and is not to be used as a mandatory trade standard. Request verification from the WTO that this designation will be honored.
Take a leadership role for providing research focused on vitamin and mineral safety parameters. The committee is already preparing for this consideration by a current assignment, which is to examine how Codex risk analysis protocols can be applied to CCNFSDU work. Once the research is completed, and safety parameters for vitamins and minerals become available, these safety guidelines could be offered to every interested nation. This valuable information could be applied for all uses, including dietary supplementation, prevention, and treatment.
With CCNFSDU focusing on research that will establish safety parameters for vitamins and minerals, including safe upper limits, the remaining sections of the Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements document should be transferred to other established Codex projects.
CCNFSDU is already headed in this direction. The Guidelines for Use of Nutrition Claims and the Scientific Basis of Health Claims are currently being coordinated with the Codex Committee on Food Labelling. It would be appropriate to expand this to include all sections of the Guidelines related to labeling and minimum levels. Packaging and purity issues can be assigned to the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene. These assignments would also eliminate existing duplication of effort by multiple committees.
i SPS Agreement
World Trade Organization
URUGUAY ROUND AGREEMENT: Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measure
ii TBT Agreement
World Trade Organization
URUGUAY ROUND AGREEMENT: Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade
iii EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE CODEX ALIMENTARIUS COMMISSION,
Rome, 3-5 June 1998,
REPORT ON MATTERS RELATING TO THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE WTO AGREEMENT ON THE APPLICATION OF SANITARY AND PHYTOSANITARY MEASURES AND THE AGREEMENT ON TECHNICAL BARRIERS TO TRADE
Text of report with the WTO letter of response dated March 1998 can be accessed online. Search for documents numbered 98-0462 and 98-1071. The latter is marked revision of first.
iv CODEX COMMITTEE ON GENERAL PRINCIPLES
13th Session, Paris, 7-11 September 1998
REVIEW OF THE STATUS AND OBJECTIVES OF CODEX TEXTS
CX/GP 98/9 July 98
29. “There are two basic groups of Codex texts known as ‘Guidelines’. Those in the first group expand upon, interpret or provide information of the application of other Codex standards or texts; those in the second group are in the form of standards and could be used as such.”
Items 30-33 cover specific Guidelines and include intent.
These comments presented by
American Holistic Health Association
PO Box 17400
Anaheim, CA 92817 USA