An international coalition of consumer organizations is denouncing plans by the World Health Organization (WHO) to accept financial support from the food industry to help government officials from developing countries draft international regulatory standards for food safety, labeling, and quality.
The WHO will announce on Friday the creation of a trust fund to be paid for in large part with food industry dollars. The announcement will take place in Geneva, Switzerland at a special meeting of the United Nations Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), which is responsible for the development of regulatory standards used in the international food trade. The intended purpose of the trust fund, which WHO hopes will reach US$40 million, is to increase the participation of government delegates from less developed countries in Codex standard setting meetings by paying their travel costs and related expenses.
“This represents a huge government sellout to the food industry,” stated Bruce Silverglade, President of the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO). IACFO is a recognized observer at Codex and participates in WHO consultations on food safety and nutrition.
“WHO’s current plan for the trust fund violates the agency’s own guidelines for the acceptance of industry money and creates an insidious conflict of interest problem,” Silverglade said. “By paying the travel expenses of government officials from developing countries, the food industry will be gaining undue influence over those officials.”
IACFO recently advised WHO director Dr. Gro Brundtland and Codex President Tom Billy, a special assistant to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, of the problem, but WHO legal counsel have refused to meet with representatives of IACFO to discuss the issue.
An internal Codex progress report acknowledges “the possible conflict of interest concerning the acceptance of private sector funding.” Nevertheless, the WHO and its subsidiary body, Codex plan to move ahead with the announcement of the fund this week.
“The purpose of the trust fund is noble, but governments and private foundations should be the sole contributors to the fund,” Silverglade said. “Unfortunately, the U.S. and other governments have not paid their fair share. If WHO and Codex move ahead with this plan, both agencies will lose credibility with the public. Who would ever trust a regulatory requirement written by government officials whose meetings are subsidized by the food industry?”