Supplement Alert: Codex Alimentarius
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | February 9, 2005

The Internet is a blessing and a curse for the health industry, and so is e-mail. In the past week, an e-mail has been circulated that seeks to frighten consumers into believing that vitamins, minerals, and herbs will be curtailed in the marketplace and become much more expensive. The culprit? Codex Alimentarius, which was created in 1962 by two United Nations organizations: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Codex is an attempt to set standards for food safety in member countries, which number over 150. Trying to standardize how foods and food products, including dietary supplements, are prepared, packaged, and shipped to other countries to limit contaminants and disease is a good idea--I don’t think anyone could argue with that. What has people upset is that Codex is trying to provide guidelines for what dietary supplements contain.

While it would take dozens of pages to explain each point in that e-mail, here are the high points:

“Codex will override Unites States law and be enforced by the World Trade Organization (WTO).” The WTO Rules are very clear: they recommend what trading nations should do, but they can’t override the laws of that country. If that country sells products in other countries, Codex may have some impact, but supplement companies that sell products in other countries already have to comply with the laws of those countries. The new rules will have minimal impact.

“No supplement may be sold for preventive or therapeutic use.” There is no mention of this in the document referred to in the minutes of the Codex meeting as Step 8.

“Any potency higher than the RDA will be considered a drug and require a prescription.” There is no mention of this in the document referred to in the minutes of the Codex meeting as Step 8. However, what is stated is that the provision on Upper Limits “should not lead to the setting of maximum levels that are solely based on recommended nutrient intakes such as the RDA.” That means the guidelines can be set by each member country. There is no mention of prescriptions or anything remotely like that in the document.

There is also mention of three bills in the U.S. Congress. A check of the Congressional Record reveals the following.

HR 1146 has nothing to do with Codex; it's a bill that was sponsored to withdraw from the United Nations. In fact, several Congressmen sponsor it every year, and it hasn't passed in at least three sessions of Congress.

HR 3377 is essentially a hazardous events reporting bill in this year’s Congress and was introduced in response to the ephedra problem of a few years ago. It does not control the amounts of vitamins and minerals in supplements. However, it will require a company report any significant hazardous effects--very similar to what is done with pharmaceuticals. It has not been passed into law.

S 722 was from last year’s Congress and didn’t pass into law. However, sponsoring Senators tried to insert parts of the bill into the Department of Defense appropriations bill last year. It was removed after deliberations, with an agreement to discuss it in this year’s session of Congress. In effect, it’s still a hazardous events reporting bill, the result of the ephedra problem.

Based on actually reading most of the documents cited in the e-mail, it doesn’t appear that our right to take supplements will disappear or be impaired. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to this issue, but there’s no reason to panic. If you feel the need to write your Congressperson and Senator to let them know how you feel about the issue, do it--but base what you’re going to tell them on facts, not the fear-mongering that proliferates in your Inbox.

  1. Codex Alimentarius
  2. United States Food Safety and Inspection website report on Codex
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