Food Law News - FAO/WHO/WTO/Codex - 1999

20 August 1999: CODEX - Codex Alimentarius delays decision on BST/rBGH

Codex Press Note, 20 August 1999

Codex Alimentarius delays decision on BST/rBGH

This is a note of clarification from FAO in response to a story released by PRNewswire on 18 August 1999. We point out the incorrect and misleading comments and implications made by the author.

The story, "Monsanto's Genetically Modified Milk Ruled Unsafe by The United Nations", incorrectly states that the Codex Alimentarius Commission unanimously upheld the EC moratorium on the use of Bovine Somatotropins or BST a product derived from biotechnology to improve milk production.

In actuality, the Commission, which met at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome from 28 June to 3 July, was unable to come to a consensus on whether to adopt maximum residue limits for BST in milk and, in fact, decided to delay a decision until a consensus could be reached.

The Commission did not in any way reject the scientific opinion of the Joint Expert Committee on Food Activities (JECFA) as implied by the statement that was released by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. of the University of Illinois School of Public Health, Chicago.

"The decision to delay was solely on the basis of the inability to achieve a consensus among its member nations," said Dr. Alan Randell, Senior Officer of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. He pointed out that the Commission adopted more than 50 food quality and safety standards as well as 374 maximum limits (tolerances) for pesticides and other veterinary drugs, all by consensus among the member countries. "At no time was the EC moratorium discussed by the Commission," Dr Randell said. The Codex Alimentarius Commission is the UN body charged with developing international standards for food quality and safety and comprises 165 nations.

Dr. Randell also rebutted the accusation that the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) operated under conditions of non-transparency and conflicts of interest or was influenced by industry consultants.

"JECFA experts are respected independent experts from around the world in the fields of toxicology, endocrinology and carcinogenesis, public health and veterinary medicine", he said. "For the most part they are academics or government scientists in their field of expertise and all of them sign statements of potential conflicts of interest when they accept membership of the Committee."

Dr. Randell also noted that nominations to the expert committee are subject to scrutiny by the expert's own government. JECFA has successfully provided high quality independent advice to the United Nations agencies since 1955 and is highly respected world-wide.

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