Setting the Record Straight

January 9, 2006

3 Min Read
Setting the Record Straight

Setting the Record Straight
by John P. Venardos

I am surethat when former Vice President Al Gore invented the Internet, he did notintend its worldwide reach to foster the dissemination of misinformation. Unfortunately, that is exactly what has occurred recentlyconcerning international trade in dietary supplements, financed in part bycompanies that are not strangers to regulatory enforcement actions.

As a recipient of thousands of unwanted emails from enragedbut misguided consumers on both sides of the Atlantic, the time has come for alittle straight talk. I have been one of the industry members working to expandopportunities for both manufacturers and consumers alike while participating atmeetings of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Codex Alimentarius (which is Latin for food code) wascreated nearly 43 years ago by a pair of United Nations agencies: the Food andAgriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) under theJoint FAO/WHO Food Standards Program. Having attended Codex meetings for morethan 20 years, rest assured that even if a radical proposal were ever put forth,its potential consideration would move at a snails pace (in fact, snails movefaster than Codex). That is because Codex advances changes in its recommendedvoluntary guidelines at a slow eight-step, multi-year process.

Who attends Codex? Voting authority is lodged with delegatesrepresenting individual nations and, despite the principle of onenation,one-vote, to that collection of 25 member states known as the European Union.Also attending are non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The dietary supplementindustry is represented by the International Alliance of Dietary Supplement andFood Associations (IADSA) and the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). Alsoparticipating as NGOs are a plethora of individuals parading as moralprinciples, disguised as self-appointed consumer advocates.

One reason for the slow pace of Codex deliberations: atradition steeped in consensus rather than flat-out votes. During such drawn outdebates, the allure of a microphone and a platform in which to be heard temptsmany a delegate whose contribution to policy debate is minimal at best.

Last summer, in the run-up to the annual meeting of the CodexAlimentarius Commission, I was but one of several CRN Codex regulars beset bye-mails from individuals misinformed by the substance of the proposed adoptionof a guideline (read: voluntary) for establishing upper limits for vitamins andminerals. For the first time, this Codex guideline provides industry, consumersand governments with a real opportunity to achieve international harmonizationinvolving the trade of vitamin and mineral supplements based on sound scienceand empirical methods, versus the application of arbitrary upper limits.

IADSA, CRN and member companies supporting both organizationsworked long and hard to convince national regulators to take a science-basedapproach to setting upper limits, rather than applying the specious, subjectiveprecautionary principle. Thanks, in part, to leadership and help from Germanys RolfGrossklaus, the European Commissions Basil Mathioudakis and Barbara Schneemanfrom the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), science prevailed overhyperbole. Not only did the approach win the day at the Codex Committee onNutrition during its deliberations in November 2004, but the Codex AlimentariusCommission meeting in Rome last July adopted it as a final (voluntary) guidelinewithout a dissenting vote.

Shortly thereafter, as Congress began debating the proposedCentral America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), self-appointed consumer activistsperhapsfearing the loss of a lucrative fundraising issuesuggested adoption couldcause U.S. consumers to lose access to dietary supplements. CRN and membersfirms such as Herbalife were able to separate fact from fiction when briefingU.S. lawmakers. Indeed, CAFTA contained no reference to dietarysupplements and, in fact, it contained no language different from that containedin the adopted North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the GeneralAgreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) or any of the other seminal internationaltrade agreements concluded during the past decades.

Frankly, critics of Codex and CAFTA seem focused on the globaltrading system. Their concern is misplaced, in that by Act of Congress, our U.S.federal food law, including the provisions of the landmark Dietary SupplementHealth and Education Action of 1994 (DSHEA), maintain within our nation completeand absolute legal supremacy over any standard or voluntary guidelinepromulgated by Codex.

John P. Venardos is the vice president of worldwide regulatoryand government affairs for Herbalife International of America, Inc. He can becontacted at [email protected].

Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the health and nutrition industry.
Join 37,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like