Editor’s Note: This article is intended for information purposes only. Because state and municipal laws vary greatly, as do the circumstances of individual cases, readers are advised to contact an attorney for specific legal advice. © Scott C. Tips 2012
In October, Part One of this article outlined the background for the July 5 vote of the Codex Alimentarius Commission to adopt a standard for Ractopamine Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs). Legal Tips Editor Scott C. Tips explained that this veterinary drug (developed and owned by Eli Lilly’s Elanco Technology) takes nutrients away from fat production and forces them instead into muscle with the goal of creating a leaner and more-valuable animal. This process causes stress and adverse effects to the animals given the drug, and the effects in humans that consume the meat are likely harmful. Many countries prohibit the sale of ractopamine-doped meat within their borders. The United States is not one of them.
We left off in Part One with this: “The facilitated session ended, as had all of the others, with no consensus on ractopamine. But, as it turned out, finding consensus on ractopamine at this meeting had never been in the game plan for the pro-ractopamine forces.”
The Empire Strikes Back
The Fourth of July saw fireworks of the verbal kind with numerous statements by country delegates as to their respective positions either for or against the ractopamine standard. But, amazingly, when the Chairman first asked for comments from the floor, there was an awkward, extended silence as no delegation wished to be the first to speak. The Swiss delegate finally ended the calm when he fired the opening shot of the day’s debate, bluntly stating, “There are two risks here. Risk Number 1 is in using anabolizing drugs that affect health. Risk Number 2 is that the use of ractopamine will increase consumer distrust and they will feel cheated by the system that is supposed to protect them. If there is no consensus, and this standard is adopted, then Switzerland might withdraw from Codex.”
The delegate for the Netherlands, Mr. Hieronymus Friedericy, gave a scathing speech against ractopamine, on the order of what NHF itself had planned to say somewhat less diplomatically when its turn to speak came. Among other things, he denounced the commercial interests that were promoting ractopamine over true health, arguing:
“When we now accept that Codex Alimentarius is used as a backdoor to force a large part of the World to allow food products from another large part of the World which contain certain products, the use of which is diametrically opposed to what our consumers expect from safe food, and in no way contributes to the health or well-being of that consumer, the Codex Alimentarius will lose its credibility as an international body to promote food safety and as a protector of consumers’ health. And despite all the splendid work for mankind that Codex has done in the past and may be doing in the future, it will be regarded by the ordinary citizen as a tool for foreign industries to force unhealthy products down their throats.”
But those words of wisdom, and others, were unfortunately smashed by the World Health Organization (WHO) representative Angelika Treitscher, who, sitting at the head table with a mantle of scientific authority that was neither deserved nor merited given her words, firmly drove a stake into the heart of the objectors when she summarily took the floor and pontificated that the JECFA (the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) review had shown ractopamine to be safe and that any opposition to the adoption of a ractopamine standard was not based upon health concerns.11 At that, the room erupted into applause by those pro-ractopamine forces that, curiously enough, had cynically swept all health concerns under the rug and then were busy calculating their profits from increased pork and other meat sales throughout the world.
Her words clearly comforted those pro-ractopamine delegates who, in lie after lie, lamented how badly the world “needs” ractopamine to feed the hungry millions and how the science “proves” this animal steroid drug is safe. Yet, between those arguments and reality lay an astonishing darkness, which no amount of reason could illuminate.
The debate went back and forth between the pro-ractopamine forces (essentially all of the Western Hemisphere, plus Australia, New Zealand and most of Africa) and the anti-ractopamine forces (the Eastern Hemisphere minus most of Africa) until the Chairman abruptly and unilaterally cut off any further discussion, leaving 36 country delegations and two INGOs (the National Health Federation [NHF] and Consumers International [CI]) without any opportunity to share their views on this issue.
This decision was especially unfortunate because both NHF and CI were once again prepared to speak out strongly against the WHO representative’s unsupported comment that “science” supported the safety of ractopamine in the food supply. The Chairman’s abrupt decision to cut off discussion also stood in sharp contrast with that of the previous Codex Chairwoman, Karen Hulebak, who had permitted a much fuller discussion of the delegates’ views, no matter how unpopular they might have been.
When the Chairman stated his view that “there is clearly no consensus” and that the Codex Procedural Manual states that we should adopt standards by consensus, it seemed as if the standard might fail. But the Chairman then recognized Ghana to speak on procedure, and that country announced—again to applause—that Codex Procedural Manual Rule 12 calls for a vote in those cases where consensus cannot be reached.
The European Union and other delegations—firmly opposed to the adoption of a standard for ractopamine that would permit World Trade Organization trade challenges against existing ractopamine bans—challenged the need for a vote, as they knew that the United States, Canada and others had been lobbying Codex countries since last year to support ractopamine use throughout the world. If the ractopamine standard were to be decided upon by consensus alone, then it would be defeated; however, if it were voted upon, then there was the strong risk of it being adopted.
In a late-evening Codex session held on July 4th, and in a reprise from last year’s vote, the first vote was to decide whether a secret ballot or an open ballot vote would be taken on whether to vote or not. The pro-ractopamine forces wanted the vote to be “open ballot” so as to ensure that “their” votes didn’t stray and vote the “wrong” way. The EU, the NHF and many others wanted a vote in secret to allow delegates to vote their consciences. This vote, the anti-ractopamine forces won 93 to 41. But the next vote—on whether to submit to a vote the adoption of the ractopamine standard—was won by the pro-ractopamine forces, 68 to 64.
Clearly jubilant and sensing blood (and most certainly wanting to have a Fourth of July victory to celebrate), the U.S. delegate Darci Vetter pushed for the meeting to continue so that the vote could be held that night. The Chairman, noting the hour hand resting on nine, wisely refused.
This year’s U.S. delegate in chief, Darci Vetter (whose name sounds eerily similar to a sinister George Lucas Star Wars character), had clearly been working the delegate crowd before and during the meeting. By misrepresenting the science and telling everyone it’s about “food security” (a code word for “let’s unload more of our junk food on the world”), she and her sales crew corralled widespread support from many developing-nation delegations, which mistakenly look to the United States for global leadership.
All of the Western Hemisphere was sewn up solid in the pro-ractopamine court, from Canada down to Argentina and Chile. And to the surprise of many, among the biggest and most vocal supporters of ractopamine were the anti-American countries of Venezuela and Cuba. Since the previous Codex Commission meeting, and probably with United States’ and others’ threats and promises still ringing in their ears, all of Africa had defected to the ractopamine camp (except for staunch Kenya, Egypt, Zimbabwe and Libya).
I wish I had been a fly on the wall during the many discussions the United States had with the undecided Codex delegates. One can only speculate as to the promises and/or implied threats that were made to such postage-stamp nations as Tonga (pop. 104,000) and St. Kitts and Nevis (pop. 53,000, sopping wet) for them to come to Italy, eat pizza and vote the American way. When you realize that Tonga and St. Kitts and Nevis each have the same voting power as China and India, you start to see the absurdity of the pro-ractopamine delegates’ calls for “voting.” This is not democracy in action, this is pure Theatre of the Absurd. Why, a back-alley market in Beijing has more people than St. Kitts and Nevis! The political blowback on the United States and Canada from this travesty will be enormous—perhaps sooner rather than later.
And just when we could not imagine the United States becoming any more overbearing, it happened. The night before the final vote, the U.S. Ambassador in Rome reportedly spent his time from 9:00 p.m. until 9:00 a.m. the next morning calling Codex delegates to lobby for their support. In some cases—our sources report—he, or someone, instructed countries (such as Georgia) to vote the U.S. way or else.
The Ugly American turned from fiction to reality at Codex.12 But Darth Vader and her troops were not the only villains in this tragi-comedy. The Special Villains for pushing this Greedo drug on the World also include Canada, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba, Ghana, Nigeria, Japan, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, the Philippines and WHO. I only hope that their children and grandchildren will be healthy enough to forgive them all for putting money before health.
The Vote and Aftermath
As already known, the vote was taken and the ractopamine standard was adopted by a razor-thin margin. If only one vote had changed sides, then the standard would have lost and not been adopted. Yet, ironically, it would still have lived on to be debated at next year’s Commission meeting. Yes, that’s right: In this rigged game, since ractopamine won this year, the standard is adopted. Had it lost, then the fight to get it adopted would just continue until the anti-ractopamine forces are worn down, bought out or simply out-voted. In the warped universe of Codex, what passes for democracy is nothing more than an obsessive death wish to pass food standards—healthy or unhealthy, it doesn’t matter—at all costs so as to preserve Codex “credibility.”
Those who voted for ractopamine were hardly profiles in courage—in fact not even profiles at all. The disgusting exchange of “thumbs up” signals between Darth Vader and the Israeli delegate, which I witnessed, as the latter arrived and slithered into her seat at the very last minute in time to vote for the adoption of the standard is just one example of such unprincipled action that week.
The true profiles in courage were those who spoke out strongly against the ill-health that ractopamine represents and who challenged the “holy” word of JECFA, which had already promoted the ractopamine standard to sainthood. Those individuals are too numerous to mention here; but Ella Strickland and Eva Zamora, who led the EU delegation, deserve special mention since they were the fulcrum around which all opposition was balanced and they so often spoke true and from the heart about the health dangers posed by ractopamine.
After the vote was announced, and China and Norway had expressed their strongest objection and disappointment with the vote, Ms. Strickland spoke for the EU, calmly saying, “The EU has repeatedly stated that there is no justification for ractopamine. Let me be clear, the EU’s current legislation will remain in place. Further serious reflection is warranted here, and Codex was not well-served here by this voting.”
In turn, the U.S. delegate said, “We are pleased that the Commission could move forward, but we take no pleasure in how it was accomplished. We thank the delegates for using all of the tools that we have here when there is no consensus. We want decisions on food-safety science.”
Others— Kenya, Egypt, Turkey, Croatia, Iran, Switzerland, Russia and Zimbabwe—registered their strongest reservations about and disgust with the outcome of the vote. In all my many years of participating in Codex meetings, I have never seen a sharper divide among the delegates on an issue.
The Death Star on Station
With the ractopamine standard in place and two other bad ones on the way13, the food markets of the world look primed for change. Most of the World is not happy and they will resist what happened at Codex that senseless week.
The narrow vote reflects the absurdity and vulnerability of Codex. We have less than 30% of the world’s pork-consuming countries dictating standards to the other 70% plus of the world. The European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Russia, Kenya and China correctly argued throughout that the science on ractopamine was not settled, that this standard was not about health but about pushing commercial profits instead, and that Codex would be damaged by the adoption of this unhealthy standard. In fact, that is exactly what will unfold as a result of the Commission’s decision: Codex has lost whatever scientific credibility it ever had, even amongst those who have been its biggest supporters. Despite especially the EU representatives’ herculean efforts—and they are truly the unsung heroines of the day—bad science and ill-health prevailed, and the world is a worse place for it.
NHF predicts that today’s adoption of a standard for ractopamine MRLs will lead to trade challenges by the United States against China and by Brazil against the European Union to crack open those consumer markets to ractopamine-doped meat products. The victory of the United States today in pushing the wishes of its commercial masters—and certainly not those of its citizens, most of whom oppose ractopamine-doped foods—may very well backfire on that country and its minions as a chain reaction of events unfold, the full scope of which no one here yet knows. WF
A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley Law School, Scott C. Tips currently practices internationally, emphasizing Food-and-Drug law, business law and business litigation, trade practice, and international corporate formation and management. He has been involved in the nutrition field for more than three decades and may be reached at (415) 244-1813 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
11 It is important to note that when EFSA pointed out the fatal flaws in the JECFA Report on ractopamine, JECFA simply declared that EFSA had not presented any “new data” and EFSA’s concerns were summarily rejected. That is not how scientific review and debate is conducted in the real world. In the real scientific world, JECFA would have had to respond and/or correct the flaws, regardless of whether EFSA’s critique presented any “new data” or not.
12 One example of utter pettiness stems from Darth Vader not liking a particular response that the FAO Legal Counsel David Byron had given at the meeting (when she had asked what “holding Ractopamine at Step 8 pending further action by Codex” meant). He had responded, in a polite tone and manner, that it simply meant that, as with all Codex standards held at Step 8, the Commission could then take action at a later date. Offended, she then complained to Mr. Byron’s boss about his comment.
13 At this same Codex meeting, the Commission agreed over many strenuous objections to revive and put back on track the standard for recombinant Bovine Somatotrophin (bST) as well as commence review of a standard for Zilpaterol hydrochloride. The latter is another steroid vet drug that makes ractopamine look tame by comparison. The NHF spoke out against both of these drugs.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2012