Friday, October 27, 2006

The Food Code - and the Queen

As you may have gathered from this blog, Baby Milk Action is in favour of regulations to hold corporations to account.

This does mean we have to spend a lot of time looking at laws and other standards. A wrong word here or there could have great significance. Changes have to be argued over and justified. Square brackets can take on a significance that is frightening.

One of the places where this happens is the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Codex Alimentarius is the Food Code. It's development is carried out by the Commission set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Codex is important because its standards are used as a benchmark by countries around the world. So imagine a government wants to stop companies labelling complementary foods for use before 6 months of age. That's been the age the World Health Assembly has been recommending for introducing complementary foods since 1994. Now, another government may object, put up to it by its corporations that want to gain more sales by promoting at an earlier age. A case can be brought before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if the countries are members. WTO will check Codex standards to see if the ban is justified. They don't check the World Health Assembly recommendations. So we have to go to Codex and argue their standards should be in line. This has been going on for years with the '6 months' being in square brackets for a long time, meaning that a decision was still to be taken. What a celebration there was when the square brackets were removed!

Arguments now are about infant formula composition and labels. We want labels to tell people that powdered formula is not sterile and clearer instructions on how to mix it up safely. The World Health Assembly has called for improved labelling because it has found that formula can be contaminated with bacteria during manufacture.

Codex concerns product quality as well, so we work with our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and other organisations for standards to improve composition and to limit toxins, such as pesticides. This work is to reduce the risks to infants who are fed with formula.

It can be tedious campainging on regulations. But it is important. The industry knows this too. It sends many people to Codex meetings, openly or covertly, trying to remove words that could impact on its sales, trying to put in others that open up loopholes.

If you want to see what it involves see the briefing papers just posted on our website for a meeting starting later this week. I won't bore you with the details here. No today at least.

Fortunately for me it is our Policy Director, Patti Rundall. who takes the lead on this. A few years ago she was given an award by the Queen for her trouble. An OBE for 'services to infant nutrition'.

You can see Patti receiving her OBE here. There we are as well outside Buckingham Palace with 'Boycott Nestlé' placards.

It's varied work at baby Milk Action.

No comments: