Disinformation: “Codex is Urban Legend”
The otherwise well-respected urban legends site snopes.com features an article called “Vitamin See” (the reason for this strange name remains unclear to me). In it, the author, Barbara Mikkelson, claims to “debunk” the notion that Codex represents a danger to nutrient access and health freedom. She also makes the incorrect claim that nutrients are dangerous and that we must be protected from them.
Ms. Mikkelson quotes an Internet article by Dr. Wallace G. Heath which makes several accurate, and some inaccurate, statements about Codex Alimentarius. Instead of giving us research on which statements are accurate and which are not, Ms. Mikkelson article on snopes.com suddenly diverges from the statements of Dr. Heath to a lambasting of natural supplements, by through numerous unsupported, factually incorrect statements.
This page seeks to bring to light the factual errors of Ms. Mikkelson’s article.
Unsupported Attacks on Nutritional Supplements
Mikkelson says absurd things about supplements such as,
- “Despite their presence on store shelves, not all dietary supplements are safe for consumers to use, let alone are beneficial to their health.”
[Dr. Laibow: which dietary supplements are unsafe for consumers to use and which are not beneficial to their health?]
- “Products can be 100% natural yet deliver a deadly payload, as have some in the past.”
[Dr. Laibow: which products that are 100% natural deliver a “deadly payload” and what incidents is she discussing?]
- “Lacking regulation of such ingestibles, there is no protection afforded consumers and authoritative-looking labels are no guarantee that what is being vended in those bottles they envelop is not harmful.”
[Dr. Laibow: all supplements made and marketed in the United States are regulated by the FDA]
- “Under current law, dangerous supplements get onto the market and stay there.”
[Dr. Laibow: dangerous supplements are removed promptly, unlike dangerous drugs]
- “Serious physical harm resulting among those who use them, as was the case with ephedra, which caused strokes, heart attacks, and upwards of 150 deaths.”
[Dr. Laibow: the causal relationship of ephedra to any death, stroke, etc., has not only never been established, but has been thrown out by a Federal Court since it was totally unsubstantiated by either science or clinical experience.]
- “In 2004, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, almost one in five Americans reported using a supplement, which means the pool of folks at risk is great.”
[Dr. Laibow: the U.S. Government examined all reported cases of ephedra related deaths and found no association between the substance and the deaths. Ms. Mikkelson chooses to ignore this fact]
Federal Judge Does Not Agree With Ms. Mikkelson
Ephedra did not cause “upwards of 150 deaths before the Food and Drug Administration was finally able to get it out of the stores” and not even the most fervent ephedra foe has claimed any such thing! 150 is a totally arbitrary figure produced by Ms. Mikkelson, and there is no verification for it.
In fact, on April 13, 2005, a Federal Judge reversed the FDA ban on ephedra, noting that the ban had violated both the will of the American People and the intent of Congress in the 1994 Dietary Supplements Health Education Act (which classifies nutrients and herbs as food and, as such, permits them to be sold as foods for personal choice).
In addition, the Judge, Tina Campbell, stated that the FDA had used “tobacco science” in attempting to establish ephedra’s toxicity from data which were not applicable and did not make any sense. Somehow, this fact not make it in the snopes.com article.
Which is Safer – Drugs or Nutritional Supplements?
Ms. Mikkelson leaves out the fact that supplements have a safety record so strong that it is an embarrassmen to the pharmaceutical industry. The products of the pharmaceutical industry have been documented to kill a minimum of 106,000 Americans each year when used properly and about 200,000 Americans per year when you count the numbers of people killed by medical error! The same year that this figure was published (1998), there were “only” 43,400 deaths due to car accidents in America. So in America, the land of the automobile, with millions in use everyday, pharmaceutical drugs are deadlier than cars!
Ms. Mikkelson has her facts backwards when she accuses nutritional supplements of putting people “at risk”.
Painting All Supplements As Harmful
Ms. Mikkelson supports the unscientific notion that all supplements are bad, that undermining DSHEA is good, and that none of this relates to Codex Alimentarius (so why then is this in her article on Codex?). In reality, it is domestic law (i.e. DSHEA) that protects us from Codex, and if that law is weakened or nullified, there is no barrier to domestic Codex implementation.
Despite her unsupported claims that those who take supplements are “at risk”, that undermining DSHEA would be good for the country and that the FDA needs more help to regulate these “dangerous” supplements, the risk of supplements is fictional and a diversion from the subject at hand: the question of whether Codex Alimentarius would eliminate our access to nutritional supplements or not.
Making Codex Alimentarius Sound Harmless
Ms. Mikkelson seems to be inferring that Codex Alimentarius is merely a “reference point” with countries having the “option” to “voluntarily” choose their own level of involvement.
The truth is that the Codex guidelines serve as the standards which international dispute resolution uses in order to allow a complaining nation to impose the trade sanctions of its choice on the offending country, if the offending country is not adhering to the standards of Codex Alimentarius in its domestic law.
This means that countries can “sue” each other for not complying with Codex, and it is to be expected that large corporations from one country would use Codex to force other countries into submission. As you can see, in contrast to what Ms. Mikkelson proclaims, Codex is far more than merely a “reference point”!
Furthermore, in addition to the threat of sanctions, because of the WTO’s “Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement” and the “Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement” the members of the WTO must bring their domestic laws into conformity with Codex standards. This is a very important fact about Codex. But it is completely ommitted from the snopes.com article. One has to wonder just whose interests Ms. Mikkelson is serving.
This article uses classic disinformation techniques: slander of natural supplements and distraction, false information (such as the false, arbitrary “150 deaths” for ephedra), to give the reader a picture that distorts reality. After reading most of the way through the snopes.com article, an uninformed reader would probably conclude that “there is no Codex problem” and that “vitamins and minerals are dangerous, anyway, and need regulation”. Both conclusions are patently false.
Spuriously Dismissing The Codex-Concerned
Then Ms. Mikkelson throws in some really interesting (and inaccurate) information in an attempt to dismiss those of us who are concerned about Codex Alimentarius:
- “The e-mailed exhortation to rise up against Codex claims that commission’s guidelines regarding dietary supplements “will over ride U.S. law…”
[Dr. Laibow: this is a technicality. The guidelines will not “override” U.S. law — the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement and the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, which are part of the WTO Agreements, can override U.S. law according to legal analysts].
- “… that’s just plain wrong. United States law governs trade within the United States.”
[Dr. Laibow: No, actually, it is right. U.S. law, especially the U.S. Constitution, Article VI, Clause 2, states that treaty law trumps domestic law. Thus, the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement, which is part of treaty agreements and the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, would trump domestic law as well.]
- “Codex standards come into play only when American manufacturers of dietary supplements look to vend them on the international market…”
[Dr. Laibow: this is factually wrong although it is widely stated, see below.]
- “… and even then only when the other nations involved have incorporated Codex guidelines into their food laws”
[Dr. Laibow: this, too, is factually inaccurate since all member nations of the WTO are bound by Codex whether or not they have “incorporated Codex guidelines into their food laws”, whatever that means.]
Snopes Article is an Urban Legend
One would expect snopes.com to honor its stated purpose of bringing fact, whenever there are facts, to urban legends. But instead, through Ms. Mikkelson’s article, snopes.com is creating an urban legend of its own: the urban legend that Codex Alimentarius is an urban legend.
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