In a Class of Its Own: Food and the Codex

Food Safety

Cattle Grazing on a Ranch

So, we’ve had a good discussion about government-subsidized food programs and poor nutrition. Readers have shared their experiences and difficulties in sourcing affordable food when income, not nutrition, was the greatest factor. As our dialogue has unfolded, we’ve gotten word that fast food purchases have declined in direct proportion to the rise in the unemployment rate. This is especially true of fast food breakfast purchases, which fell as much as 85% in some areas. When people don’t go to work in the morning, they don’t stop by for egg and cheese product on a biscuit. But there is one sector of food products breaking sales records—junk food.

Kroeger’s reports that their sales rose a whopping 9.2% in the last quarter of 2010. More people are eating in, and more people than ever before receive subsidized food assistance from the government. An increase in assistance has lead to an increase in the sale of highly processed ready-to-eat food. Forget gold. Junk food is where the real money is.

For as much complaining as they do about the health crisis in the United States and global hunger, the eco-elites seem content with complaining to and about the government rather than providing any leadership to solve the issues. As a result of this sustained “all talk and no action” public policy, Western nations face an obesity epidemic at the same time developing nations are facing a food shortage. Add to this the worrisome rise in the number of people depending on government-subsidized food benefits, and you’re staring at one twisted system. So, what could possibly make the current situation worse? The United Nations.

The Codex Alimentarius Project

The Codex Alimentarius Project (Codex) began in 1963 as a joint UN effort with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). For nearly 50 years, a staff of experts at the UN has been classifying all the food on the planet. For instance, commercially produced corned beef is considered corned beef only if it meets certain requirements:

Corned beef is chopped, cured, boneless carcase meat from animals of bovine species and may include head meat, heart meat and skirt meat. The product shall be prepared from coarsely cut beef which has been precooked or a mixture of such precooked beef to which a maximum of 5% raw beef has been added; in either case, the meat shall be cured before or after filling into the container. The heat treatment shall be applied after the container is sealed and shall be sufficient to ensure that the product is shelf-stable and that it presents no public health hazard (CODEX STAN 88-1981).

The standard for corned beef goes on to list the amount of chemical additives that are allowed, along with the amount of heavy metal contamination allowed. Corned beef can only contain 1mg of lead for every 1kg of product. It’s good to know the UN is all over that lead contamination thing.

The Codex doesn’t just classify and standardize processed foods. The standards also set limits on the size of any visible defects on fresh produce, like apples. Apples, like every other food on the planet, must meet a certain standard, or the UN will not recognize them as fit for international trade. That’s what this is all about—globalization.

While the Codex purports to be a tool to help the world’s governments regulate international trade, it is in fact a death sentence to small-sustainable producers and small market sellers, because to get an apple (or any other whole food) to conform to the Codex standard, growers have to apply copious amounts of expensive chemical herbicides and pesticides to genetically modified patented seeds. The only producers who could possibly afford this are the corporate factory farms of global agri-business. Nevertheless, the Codex Commission insists it’s just looking out for the health of consumers and the best interest of fair trade:

The main purposes of this Programme are protecting health of the consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Tell that to Taiwan’s local beef producers, who are fighting to keep beef contaminated with ractopamine out of their country. Taiwan is one of 160 nations who will not accept U.S. beef imports because of the chemical ractopamine. Unlike antibiotics and other chemicals that are withheld for a certain period before the animal can be slaughtered, ractopamine is added to cattle feed less than a month before slaughter to improve marbling by increasing protein synthesis in the animals’ last days. Ractopamine is sold under the brand names Paylean, Optaflexx and Tomax.

It’s so ubiquitous in conventional cattle feed, that it can be found even in countries where it is banned. The Sichuan Pork Chamber of Commerce reports that since 1998 over 1,700 people have been poisoned by ractapamine in that province of China alone. Symptoms of ractapamine include hyperactivity and muscle degeneration. Some have even questioned the connection between ractapmine and ADHD.

Then, there are the effects on the animals. Reports from watchdog groups show animals who are given ractopamine have deplorable side effects like shaking and hooves that literally fall off. This is especially true of Holsteins, the favorite breed of confined feeding operations everywhere.

In a scathing commentary for, Martha Rosenberg asks the obvious question, “How does a drug marked, ‘Not for use in humans. Individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure. Use protective clothing, impervious gloves, protective eye wear, and a NIOSH-approved dust mask’ become ‘safe’ in human food? With no washout period?” It’s a good question.

So, why on Earth would Taiwan be willing to lift its ban on the chemical and allow beef contaminated with ractapamine? You guessed it. Taiwan has decided to accept the Codex Alimentarius as their standard for trade. All 159 other countries that currently ban ractapamine are expected to lift their bans in favor of the Codex as well. Do you feel protected yet?

With so many questions surrounding the use of chemical food additives and their connection to serious health problems like obesity, heart disease, behavioral changes, tissue degeneration and the myriad of other conditions that are known results of food additives, one would think the Codex Commission would be more concerned with standardizing food by classifying it according to the level of harmful additives. If it’s food, it shouldn’t contain any more added chemicals than are absolutely necessary, and no chemicals like ractapamine that are known to be dangerous.

Is it food?

While something might well be edible, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s food. Imagine what the result would be if the Codex Commission focused on standardizing food not for trade, but for health. If the Codex Commission were to make a distinction between what is food and what is merely edible, and the world’s governments only subsidized “food” programs for the poor, not “edible” programs, the obesity rate would drop. The asthma rate would drop. Behavioral and cognitive problems would decrease, and people the world over would be healthier.

It seems as though there would be no downside, right? Not so fast. Remember Kroeger’s remarkable growth during one of the worst economic downturns ever? Rest assured, grocery retailers and junk food manufacturers see a huge downside—an immediate reversal in their profits, which would in turn translate into an immediate drop in the profits of food-additive manufacturers and confined animal feeding operations. The awful truth is that chemical and fast food manufacturers depend on government-subsidized food programs to boost their profits. As long as cheese doodles and chocolate-flavored corn syrup are classified as food, the money keeps rolling in because millions upon millions of low-income, government-dependent consumers can afford to buy poison disguised as food.

The Codex Commission, heavily influenced by global agri-business, has set out to classify all the food in the world in order to facilitate trade between countries and cut down on international misunderstandings. Yet, they forgot to start at the beginning. Before food is classified, shouldn’t it be defined? What is food? Without a definition, how can the USDA work with low income communities to provide access to healthy “food?” How can the UN struggle to make sure developing nations have enough “food” without a definition?

How does defining food help solve the food crisis in developing nations? Food is used as a weapon by shifty governments and profiteers. The Codex is meant to stop some of the corruption by describing what each food is. This way, a trade dispute over apples doesn’t erupt into a trade war. Once all countries on the planet have adopted the Codex, trading will be standardized across the globe. An apple will be exactly the same coming from the Ivory Coast as it would coming from Washington state. There would be an even playing field, giving poor nations access to more food and eliminating the use of food as a weapon. Unless….

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, commodity prices are climbing, pushing the price of food staples like rice and wheat ever higher. Undeveloped nations that have traditionally struggled with hunger are once again combating the scourge of malnutrition. As the Codex Commission works diligently to standardize the world’s food production, mass starvation continues to ravage continents that have battled the same problem for centuries.

So far, the Codex Project hasn’t done anything other than waste money and upset small-scale farmers. When it’s all over, and everything than can be classified as food has been described, right down to the genetically modified corn puff covered with caramel-colored high-fructose corn syrup and seasoned with a dash of chemical preservative, the Codex Commission will have succeeded in doing nothing to solve the world’s food-related problems.