Consumer, labor, and environment group tell Clinton administration to support openness at global food safety meetings despite industry opposition

Ask Congress to Fund Critical Food Safety Programs

WASHINGTON - A coalition of consumer, labor, and environmental organizations today called on the U.S. government to vigorously support proposals to make the development of international food safety standards more open to the public. The groups charge that Administration officials are failing to follow through on President Clinton’s call for increasing public participation in international meetings.

     In a letter to Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety Catherine Woteki, the coalition urged the U.S. to support proposals to admit accredited observers to meetings of the Executive Committee of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex). Codex is the United Nations agency that issues food safety, quality, and labeling standards used by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to settle trade disputes such as the European Union ban on U.S. meat produced with growth hormones.

     The Codex Committee on General Principles (CCGP) is meeting in Paris April 10th to the 14th to debate a proposal to allow non-governmental observers into meetings of the Commission’s Executive Committee. Woteki will head the United States delegation to that meeting bringing a draft U.S. government position paper stating that the current proposal to open the Codex Executive Committee is strongly supported by consumer groups but not by the food industry and therefore “no consensus has emerged within the U.S. Codex community.” The draft position paper says that the U.S. needs more information before it “can fully evaluate” the recommendation of the Codex Secretariat that observers be permitted to attend the Codex Executive Committee meeting.

     “Consumers throughout the world will be watching to see whether the United States officials attending the Codex meeting follow through on President Clinton’s commitment to greater openness or whether U.S. officials cave in to the demands of the multinational food companies,” said Benjamin Cohen, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

     President Clinton told the WTO at its meeting last December in Seattle that he supports greater public participation in the WTO. Last week, United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky reiterated the President’s call that more international meetings be open to the public.

     Groups signing the letter are: CSPI, Sierra Club, Food and Allied Services Trade — AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, Consumer Federation of America, Government Accountability Project, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

     CSPI will attend the meeting of the Codex Committee on General Principles this week in Paris on behalf of the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO). IACFO was founded by CSPI, the Food Commission (UK) and the Japan Offspring Fund.