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The Byrne Report

War on Vitamins


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DOWN THE STREET from Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital there is a small pharmacy called Farmacopia. It is not the kind of drug store where you go to buy Sudafed or Tylenol or Trojans. No, people visit Farmacopia because they have been diagnosed with cancer or heart problems or brain disease.

Farmacopia is owned and operated by Dr. Sid Kurn, a neurologist, and herbologist Karen Mannix. They sell high-quality products that you will not find on the shelf at Whole Foods. They render expert advice on how to treat specific dietary and medical needs with vitamins and minerals. They will happily compound a special powder or tincture for your chronic disease, or your phlegm or PMS or prostrate problems, or your psychological troubles. The company's website (www.farmacopia.net) has dozens of well-substantiated protocols for treating common ailments. Unlike some opportunist supplement venders (think: designer steroid or laetrile salesmen), these folks are knowledgeable healers, rooted in the community and medicine.

Healthy people visit Farmacopia because they plan to stay healthy. They know that even tofu is a dubious gustatory proposition these days, since so much of it's manufactured from genetically engineered soy beans. Smart folks understand that unless you can grow and eat your own food, it's wise to supplement a commercially obtained diet with large doses of vitamins and minerals--you know, the stuff of life that is largely siphoned out of "food."

When I called Mannix to ask what she knows about Codex Alimentarius, she gasped. "I'd been wondering when National Public Radio was going to get on this story." I reiterated that I was with the Bohemian, not NPR, and she calmed down a tad.

"Codex is about to destroy our business and the health-supplement industry," she said. "And hardly anybody knows anything about it."

Here's the story. In 1962, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) created the Codex Alimentarius (Latin for "food code") Commission to "harmonize" world trade in food products by setting production standards, labeling requirements and distribution restrictions on tens of thousands of food commodities, from peanuts to pineapple to cyclamates.

This summer, Codex is finally getting around to "harmonizing" world trade in vitamin and mineral food supplements. Lest anyone think that Codex is benign, allow me to note that it's controlled by the interests of multinational food and pharmaceutical companies. Under the rubric of protecting consumers, Codex protects corporate market monopolies, now and in the future, while destroying small producers who cannot meet Codex regulations, which often require huge capital expenditures to reconfigure factories and distribution networks.

The new Codex standards will likely require that supplements be "scientifically" assessed as potential toxins, not as nutrients with proven beneficial histories going back millions of years. Codex may set very low maximum dosage limits for nonprescriptive vitamin and mineral supplements, based not upon their obviously healthy effects on those who need them, but upon potentially unhealthy effects upon population subgroups who could possibly be harmed by consuming too much of a good thing. For example, Codex technocrats will likely recommend a daily vitamin C dose of 75 mg, whereas Farmacopia suggests an RDA of 500 to 1,000 mg for a healthy person.

Many natural sources of vitamins, as opposed to synthetic sources, are probably going to be permanently banned from manufacture and distribution in Europe, along with minerals like boron, vanadium and naturally occurring selenium. Some 300 of 420 substances in 5,000 health products for sale in the United Kingdom will be banned, according to the Alliance for Natural Health, a U.K.-based trade association.

Although the United States enjoys a relatively liberal regime of supplement regulation, American suppliers will not be able to export Codex-restricted substances to Europe--and perhaps Africa, Asia and Latin America--where the draconian standards are likely to be the rule. If countries wish to remain in good standing with the World Trade Organization--thereby avoiding tariff wars or economic blockades--they will be required to "harmonize" their food industries with Codex standards written to suit the agendas of such corporations as Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Cargill Health & Food Technologies, Bayer, Merck and Monsanto, all of which heavily influence the Codex commissioners.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which plays a huge role inside the commission, is in the early stages of formulating new standards to regulate U.S. supplements as per the ultrarestrictive Codex program. The FDA admits, in its web publication on Codex, that American products might be locked out of the lucrative European market because doses and materials will violate the Codex standards. And should a European vitamin maker sue the United States under WTO rules, claiming that highly restricted European products are unfairly locked out of the U.S. market because consumers prefer large American doses over small European doses, it is conceivable that Congress and the FDA would be compelled to rewrite supplement regulations or face sanction.

Without doubt, the repercussions of this summer's Codex ruling on nutrition standards will reverberate in the global supplement market for decades. One result could be that multinational pharmaceutical companies will suck up a newly created market for high-dose vitamins and minerals that can only be obtained with a medical prescription. Mannix says that drug-company reps are already visiting her to flog synthetic vitamin products priced several times higher than natural-based vitamins.

If Codex standards were intended to promote health, they would be based on the findings of a joint report issued by the FAO and WHO in 2003 called Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. The study determined that the health of Third World populations is being destroyed by importation of the First World diet which is spreading globally like an "infectious disease."

"The population nutrient goals recommended by the Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation," the study reads, are "intended to be further adapted and tailored to local or national diets and populations" and to help "reverse or reduce the impact of unfavourable dietary changes that have occurred over the past century."

The report implicitly damns Codex's methods suggesting that supplement regulations should not be calibrated at the level of the most at-risk subgroups--such as pregnant women--but, taking risk and benefit into account, they should be based on the needs of a whole population.

The report observes, "Seldom is there a single 'best value'" for food standards; instead, "there is often a range of population averages that would be consistent with maintenance of health." In other words, nationally determined regulations--not regulations invented by agribusiness and multinational drug companies--can and should be designed for specific countries and cultures. Of course, the risks of exceeding normal dosages should appear on the label.

Naturally, the WTO/Codex complex is not about to chuck its agenda and start basing international trade rules on health concerns. The likes of Monsanto are pleased that Third World markets are being saturated with fast foods, while their struggling economies are undermined by the importation of red meat, dairy, refined grains and sugar. Ironically, the bad health ensuing from eating typical American "food" is good for agribusiness firms because, you guessed it, they also sell cancer drugs and vitamin supplements.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that food-borne disease contributes to approximately 76 million illnesses, 323,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths in the United States each year, while properly prescribed and administered prescription and over-the-counter drugs are estimated to cause annually 2.2 million serious adverse events, including some 106,000 deaths in the United States alone.

If Codex wants to serve humanity, it will kill McDonalds, Merck and Monsanto, not the neighborhood vitamin store.

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From the May 11-17, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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