OTTAWA, CANADA (April 29, 2003) - The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is calling on
a committee of the UN World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization meeting in
Ottawa this week to improve international food labelling standards to facilitate national nutrition promotion
efforts and prevent consumer fraud. Improved standards would permit and encourage governments to
require companies to provide consumers with better information on ingredients, nutritional values, and
The UN Codex Alimentarius Commissions (Codex) Committee on Food Labelling develops
international rules used by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to settle trade disputes. National laws that
exceed Codex health and consumer protection standards, without justification deemed acceptable by the
WTO, can be declared illegal barriers to trade.
Codex standards can act as a ceiling, not a floor, stated Bill Jeffery, National Coordinator for
Canada of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest. So, international standards must be set high to
allow governments to issue consumer protection rules without fear of being challenged at the WTO. Yet all
too often, multinational food companies pressure governments to base international standards on the lowest
The meeting of the Codex Committee will be attended by delegates from more than 30 countries.
The agenda includes setting standards for the labelling of:
- Percentages of major ingredients of processed foods (a matter taken up by the Committee at
the urging of IACFO);
- Genetically engineered foods;
- Organic food;
- Information (like amounts of fat, calories, sugars, etc.) that must be disclosed when
manufacturers make nutrition claims; and
- Health-related marketing claims.
IACFO is specifically calling on the Codex Committee to set standards that would encourage
governments to require percentage ingredient labelling for major ingredients in processed foods -- especially ingredients that significantly affect health, such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, and
We hope that the delegations will make these trade rules more responsive to public health
imperatives, said Jeffery. The World Health Organizations March 2003 expert report Diet,
nutrition, and the prevention of chronic disease details the world-wide human and toll of disease
related to diet and physical inactivity and calls on governments and industry to address the problem
through new public policy initiatives.
Among its findings, the report summarized scientific evidence concerning the relationship
between chronic diseases and 14 classes of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and
added sugars. Currently, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand have laws
requiring some percentage ingredient labelling on the books that probably exceed the level of
consumer protection permissible under the Codex standards. Consumer groups are pressing the
Committee to adopt a broader international percentage ingredient declaration standard that would
allow those laws to remain in effect without fear of being challenged as illegal trade barriers at the
WTO, Jeffery said. Since last years meeting, the Canadian government announced plans to enact
limited national percentage ingredient rules.
CSPI, as a member of the official observer International Association of Consumer Food
Organizations (IACFO), will be urging the Committee to set standards that encourage governments to
mandate nutrition information on all foods, require appropriate labelling of genetically engineered
foods, and establish strict pre-market approvals for health claims.
The Canadian Government recently finalized rules to require full nutrition facts on most
packaged foods, thereby joining the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Brazil, and several
other countries that have established or proposed mandatory nutrition label programs. The Codex
Committee, however, is merely considering nutrition labelling when companies make nutrition-related
claims. This arrangement could leave national mandatory rules vulnerable to attack as trade barriers.
NOTE TO EDITORS: The Codex Committee on Food Labelling will meet in full session at the
Ottawa Congress Centre (55 Colonel By Drive) April 28-May 2, 2003, excluding Thursday. The
meeting agenda can be seen at: http://www.codexalimentarius.net/ccfl31/fl03_01e.htm.
CSPI is a member of the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO), an
alliance of independent, non-profit consumer food groups with members in the United States,
Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom, as well as Canada. IACFO is an officially recognized
non-governmental observer at the United Nations Codex Alimentarius Commission (a body that
sets standards for international trade in food). Visit IACFO on the World Wide Web at: