The nutrition committee of the WHO/FAO Codex Alimentarius Commission – the UN body that sets standards for the global trade of foods and commodities – met in Berlin last week [1]. The mandate of Codex is ostensibly to protect consumer health and facilitate fair trade, however, these aims were threatened once again by its weak Conflict of Interest rules and the commercial and political interests of producer countries, this year led by the United States (US) and France. Only through the strong representation from other governments, including many from developing countries, alongside WHO, UNICEF, the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and other civil society organisations, were consumer protective safeguards retained.

Of the 350 delegates listed in the report, 40% (143) were from industries and their front groups that represent the agro-chemical industry and manufacturers of highly-processed foods, drinks, additives and supplements.   The priorities of these corporations is to extend the shelf life of products, protect and promote their global trade, and, if possible, portray all this as being in the best interests of the poor [2]. Their impact on the environment and involvement in deforestation, mono-cropping, land and sea grabbing and risky technologies is rarely mentioned. [3]

Not content with sitting at the back of the room with other Observer organisations, over 60 industry representatives sat on government delegations, gaining easy and privileged opportunities to push their deregulatory trade agendas. [4] Such inappropriate commercial involvement at Codex is largely ignored even though it includes a range of tactics, for example the funding of “technical” side events, dinners and receptions for participants, the promotion of industry-funded research. All have the aim of weakening standards so that the food industry’s capacity for trade is not compromised. [5]