What Will Be in Your Organic Produce, Fish, and Fortified Grains if Codex Gets Its Way?

May 21, 2013
Category: Uncategorized

apple with labelPesticides? Yes. GMOs? Maybe. Hormones? Maybe not.

ANH-USA’s executive and legal director, Gretchen DuBeau, was a member of the US delegation to the Codex Committee of Food Labeling (CCFL), which met in Canada last week. We were honored to bring the voice of the consumer to the table at Codex, especially since it is otherwise heavily influenced by big corporate interests.
The CCFL is responsible for setting organic food labeling standards—similar to our National Organic Standards Board, but on an international level. Food labeling, in this case, encompasses health claims and nutrient reference values, with a significant focus on GMOs. The committee works very closely with the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CNFSDU) by developing the labeling and defining the claims permitted in foods and dietary supplements. You may recall that ANH-USA represented you at the CNFSDU meeting last November in Germany.
At this meeting, four areas of concern were discussed:

  • GMO labeling;
  • Whether the pesticide ethylene may be used on organic produce;
  • Organic standards for aquaculture and seaweed; and
  • Biofortification of grains.

GMO Labeling
After years of heated debate, we thought the CCFL had finally put the issue of GMO labeling to rest: rather than adopting an official position, the committee decided to leave it to the discretion of individual countries. This year, however, there was a short-lived attempt to allow countries to label GMOs in accordance with national legislation.
Regarding non-fermented soybean products, for example, the working group wanted to include this language: “If genetically modified soybean is used in the process, it shall be indicated in the label in accordance with national legislation.” This language is hardly a mandate—it simply states that if GMOs are used, they should be labeled if the host country has GMO labeling laws.
But surprisingly, a number of member countries were outraged at the hint of anything that could possibly support GMO labeling, and the language was rejected. The US used its standard (and patently false) “GMO is not materially different” argument. Argentina was even more extreme, stating that the current Codex standards on biotechnology is actually discriminatory. They want to see more pro-GMO language in Codex!
Use of Ethylene
The committee also discussed whether to allow ethylene as a sprouting inhibitor for organic potatoes and onions, and if so, how it should be labeled. Ethylene is a widely used gas commonly employed to hasten the ripening of fruits. In the US, it is considered a pesticide, and is currently allowed in organic foods for the post-harvest ripening of tropical fruit and the de-greening of citrus. However, ethylene is toxic enough that the CCFL was also considering whether labeling should reflect worker safety concerns. Should a substance that is potentially hazardous to workers even be used in organics?
The European Union is pushing for the qualified use of ethylene in organic foods. Their data, however, was seriously lacking. They did not have any first-hand toxicological data on mammals, only secondary sources and reviews, and those indicated that ethylene exposure may result in asphyxia as well as an increased risk to the liver and nervous system—though they were unable to determine at what level this occurs. And they had no studies of the behavior of ethylene in the environment, though they predicted that the use of ethylene would be “unlikely” to contaminate water and soil “in significant amounts.”
Given that European Food Safety Authority itself identified data gaps in areas of significant concern, it is premature to allow the use of ethylene as a sprouting inhibitor for organic potatoes and onions. The desire to have certain potatoes and onions out of season should not override environmental and health risks.
Aquaculture and Seaweed
The CCFL is in the beginning stages of including aquaculture (the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic plants) in its standards for organic foods. By contrast, the US has still not developed certification standards for organic aquaculture products, even though we started the process back in 2000.
During last week’s discussions, the US asked for the explicit inclusion of animal feed as part of organic standards. In general, Codex guidelines have usually been applied to feed as well, but it is certainly not a bad thing to have it be included specifically in the language. For this request to come from the US is surprising, since organic feed for carnivorous fish has proved problematic in the US. Fish feed is not usually organically farmed—often they are wild-harvested feed fish. Current US organic standards demand that all certified organic livestock be fed 100% organic feed; the US hasn’t issued a final rule on this is as it relates to aquaculture.
Conventional fish are often grown in overcrowded tanks. Some members felt that the amount of individual space fish receive should be higher (the “stocking density” should be lower) for organic fish than for conventional aquaculture. Unfortunately, the US disagreed, citing a lack of scientific support. The committee is considering deleting any reference to a limit on stocking density, stating that the current organic standards protecting animal welfare are sufficient.
No agreement has been reached on the use of hormones in organic aquaculture and seafood. Canada pushed for the qualified use of hormones (supported by Japan and Brazil), but we are happy to report that the US was opposed to permitting hormones (as were other countries), since hormones contradict the market expectations of organic foods.
Biofortification
The CCFL is currently discussing the issue of labeling of biofortified foods. Biofortification is the idea of breeding crops to increase their nutritional value. Biofortification differs from ordinary fortification because it focuses on making plant foods more nutritious as the plants are growing, rather than having nutrients added to the foods when they are being processed.
The problem is that there is not even an accepted definition of biofortification. Biofortification can occur through traditional, natural crossbreeding and seed selection (“conventional biofortification”); the addition of nutrients during the processing of crops; or through genetic engineering. ANH-USA’s position on the subject would depend largely on which process is used.
In any case, the labeling of the biofortified food is important. Labeling would need to indicate three things: that it was biofortified; how it was biofortified (natural vs. GE); and what it was fortified with.
The conventional biofortification of crops is positive: it provides a natural, safe way to deliver necessary vitamins and minerals to vulnerable populations without processing. For example, the HarvestPlus program (developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute, an observer at Codex meetings), also produces crops biofortified with iron and zinc. In fact, we could argue that biofortification through conventional breeding or processing is a relatively inexpensive and time-tested methodology—human beings have literally been doing it for millennia with great success. And it is a safe alternative to GE. By contrast, it would be irresponsible to accept GE biofortification without evaluating its long-term safety to humans and to the environment.
Codex (short for Codex Alimentarius, the Latin for “food code”) is a commission established in 1963 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization with a stated mission of protecting the health of the consumers and ensuring fair practices in the food trade. As we explained last year, this is done by developing harmonized international food standards, guidelines, and codes of practice, and wherever there is a proposed “harmonization,” we must be vigilant.
Codex guidelines and standards are also used as benchmarks in World Trade Organization disputes—and as a WTO member, the US must toe the line. On top of that, Codex standards may influence domestic law. Right now, the European Union’s absurdly low allowable dosages for vitamins, minerals, and other supplements influences Codex, which may in turn influence or affect our own laws—and that would be a disaster.
We will, of course, keep you posted on what is happening as all this develops.

21 responses to “What Will Be in Your Organic Produce, Fish, and Fortified Grains if Codex Gets Its Way?”

  1. Judith Gonzales says:

    We, The People of Planet Earth, see our food as sacred. Please don’t mess with our food!

  2. George R. Goffe says:

    Sometimes all CAPS are NOT shouting.
    Having said this, I REALLY appreciate all the work you people do. Please KEEP it up!

  3. Barbara Talbert says:

    People with hemochromatosis should not have iron added to their food. If it is added it should have to be labeled. One size fits all is not the way to go as everyone is different.

  4. Neal Madnick says:

    No pesticides or chemicals in our food, period!

  5. The uses of Ethylene, biofortification, and aquaculture in our food supplies is just another misused man-made interference in our nation’s food production. With all of the present toxic poisonous, hazardous and eventually disease and death causing chemicals in factory farmed foods, and now with the addition of GMO foods we are being toxified to death. All of this is presently the state of our affairs as corporations like Monsanto et al. are taking over the food supply and seeds production in the U.S. It is all in the name of the bottom line called profits. How can we make more profits? Its to costly to use natural insecticides such as insects that in Nature kill the pests. This is on the backs of the American consumer who is basically, stressed, non informed, or to be brainwashed by the governmental current powers to do anything but to continue being a consumer considered by these economic powers to be the herd. Instead of mothers knows best now we have big brother knows best. This is our government today. Bribery and special interests govern the present conditions. In my humble and professional opinion we have hit rock bottom. Not only are deadly diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart and stroke at an all time high and directly related to our diets but we also have toxic disease the cause of auto-immune diseases on the rise as well. Not to mention Sars the flesh eating virus/bacteria that antibiotics are useless to use against this and other diseases like Valley Fever and Lyme’s disease all over our country. The medical community is run by the pharmaceutical and chemical corporations and they promote the use of masking symptoms of toxic disease called toxemia or systemic dysbiosis by prescribing patients more synthetic toxic poisons they call drugs to treat symptoms. So its the rat race and with no end in sight we the people are the ones suffering the most. First none of these agriculture practices of using poisons, heavy metals, chemicals, or artificial growth stimulants, etc. should be allowed on our crops. Secondly we should be encouraging only non toxic farming and definitely organically produced foods. No food enriching, no additives, irradiating, high tech, factory farmed, GMO, or ethylene, gyophospahtes like in Roundup, etc. At the present rate with all of the aforementioned rates of diseases on the rise we need to take a deep breath and reflect for a moment. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why we are disease ridden. why…

  6. Where in the Constitution does it say the government is responsible for our food supply or how we eat? I find it most offensive to have to defend and search out healthy food that is not GMO, filled with toxic additives, or unnecessary hormones. What happened to freedom and the rights that go with being in a democracy? Who decides what we can and cannot eat? Why would they have a concern? Where is this coming from that people are denied the right to their own healthy food choices without government control?

  7. Constance Garcia-Barrio says:

    To protect our helath, we must know what we are eating. This knowledge is especially crucial in the case of genetically modified foods since their safety is, at best, questionable.

  8. Organic means Organic! Keep it that way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Betty Chan says:

    No pesticides, No antibiotics in my food. I get deathly sick if my food has pesticides and antibiotics, because I have almost no Glucose 6 Phosphate Dehydrogenase Enzyme, and Almost no Glutathione, both of the afore named enzymes are needed to metabolize pesticides and antibiotics.

  10. Ron says:

    I have a hard time believing all of these bought out politicians. They don’t do what is right, they do for profit. Most of them are wealthy compared to the average voter. Some day those ignorant ones will pay. They think they came here to Earth for wealth and the fact is, they came here to fine out who they are. Ignorance, indeed!

  11. Dr. Joan P Mencher says:

    I cannot condone allowing GMOs or pesticides to be allowed. I do my best to avoid both and try to avoid such food. CODEX guidelines are very much dependent on corporate approval, not medical approval. We certainly need to have everything labeled, and to keep away from CODEX.

  12. Julie Lind says:

    Natural is always always safe for humanity!

  13. Richard Moore says:

    It’s very simple no adulteration, enhancement, pesticides, genetic manipulation…organic is naturally grown without anything that isn’t organic!

  14. Paul says:

    Thanks for the summary of this meeting. I wish there were more information concerning the different countries and their GMO positions. Only the US and Argentina were mentioned and without details.
    Please include a country by country synopsis on this critical issue! It would even be nice to note changes in position based on public demand or evidence of GMO crop failure, etc.

  15. Evangeline Caridas says:

    It is big pharma’s way of controlling the market and taking away individual choice about health issues. I read more than my MD about wellness. They don’t care about wellness. I had an MD friend of mine say “Wellness is not good for my business”. You can publish that quote just leave my name off.

  16. David says:

    CODEX is the most stupid thing around. Sponsored by the drug companies and in direct contravention to any democratic process!! Know to Western political democracies! It is an attack on your civil rights to express free choice!

  17. Harriet Knightly says:

    I feel there should be NO ETHYLENE or an other even possibly hazardous product used on ORGANIC FOODS~~
    This is completely opposite thinking for Organic foods. They are supposed to be pure free of harmful pesticides, fungicides and herbicides and any and all chemicals not a edible or naturally occurring, derived or originated product.
    Unfortunately there are the septic systems and Sewage TREATMENT PLANTS that spray the fluids from them onto the surface of the ground also releasing the so called cleaned water into our OCEANS hence allowing them to dissipate into the atmosphere. Once a storm comes through be it rain, wind, tornado or even snow the contaminants in the residue are spread over the land. The same holds true with the chemicals that Monsanto is being allowed to use on the foods they grow and the chemicals used on foods that cross over country borders.
    These contaminants transfer into the organic crops, the soil and the waters used to grow and also raise them in and on.
    So in short all dangerous health damaging chemicals must be stopped. Fields need to be stripped and processed to cleanse them of these chemicals and water needs to be filtered. The chemicals need to be processed then to break them down into less or non-harmful byproducts! All Septic systems that don’t use the natural cleansing and purification process that the soil has, IE: worms, ants, aeration, sand stone and Suns decontaminant process, should be shut down and removed.
    Ok, you say the earth cleanses itself but with the population expansion and over use of toxic waste products and those derived from toxic waste IE: Agent Orange and Round-up and or the chemicals that Monsanto has created that don’t dissipate ever from the soils! They also tend and have been proven to increase in intensity making the foods and herds of animals raised on these lands even MORE TOXIC over time, than the Prior Batch!! Also using and developing and distributing more and more drugs to the population is increasing the toxic problem we are having with soils and waters of the world. These are chemicals not naturally occurring products!
    Our earth does have a way of cleansing itself but given chemicals unnatural to the environment the earth can’t do it’s job. Thus killing HUMANITY! Scientists developing germs, viruses and bacteria’s is another item that needs to be addressed in regards to our food ad survival.
    If you think we can continue to ignore and hope we can control the damaging affects of…

    • Kathleen Franz says:

      I feel there should be NO ETHYLENE or an other even possibly hazardous product used on ORGANIC FOODS~~This is completely opposite thinking for Organic foods. They are supposed to be pure free of harmful pesticides, fungicides and herbicides and any and all chemicals not a edible or naturally occurring, derived or originated product.
      I have a very low income at the moment; however, despite the cost, I go to a great deal of expense and trouble to buy foods that are “organic”. I want my family to have the very best nutrition so that they are healthy and can fight off disease. Do not pollute our foods! This is an important right for all Americans!

  18. My right to choose what I put in my body. Full discloser of all ingredients allows me this right. Thank you for your assistance.

  19. Flora Dora says:

    People need to become more vocal.
    This Saturday, May 25th, there will be a Global March against Monsanto, a “Call to Action for a Non-Hierarchical Occupation of Monsanto Everywhere.”
    http://occupy-monsanto.com/march-against-monsanto-may-25-2013/
    “This site is dedicated to empowering citizens of the world to take action against Monsanto & it’s enablers like the FDA, USDA, EPA, GMA, BIO, and the processed food companies that use Monsanto’s products.”
    The scope of this protest is huge, the number of countries, states/provinces and cities participating is staggering … which is a very encouraging indication of the growing awareness and resistance to the destruction of our food supply.
    Please consider participating in this event if you can.
    If there is nothing close enough for you to participate in person, send emails to those you know who can. Or form your own protest on Saturday. Call news stations and ask them to cover this event
    Monsanto is the lynch pin and if we can bring it down off of its illegitimate throne as the world’s biggest destroyer and controller of our food supply, we WILL be able to put a stop to this.
    Remember, Monsanto is PROTECTED … and it will take huge numbers of people to be heard, to make them stop ignoring us before we can stop allowing this corporate/political cronyism to go on.
    When people are united, we can be powerful. When people all around the world unite and speak with one voice, it can be thunderous.
    Make them listen, get involved. Petitions are great and I support them, I think the Alliance for Natural Health does a wonderful job – but there is more we can all do together. There is more we HAVE to do if we want to restore Health and Food Freedom Rights in America and the world.
    Blessings to all.

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