Consumer Union Comments to USDA on US Codex Delegation Statement of Duties
April 20, 1998
FSIS Docket Clerk
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Food Safety & Inspection Service
Room 102, Cotton Annex
300 12th Street SW
Washington DC 20250-3700
These are comments of Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. on the U.S. Codex Delegation’s proposed official statement on the Duties of U.S. Delegates and delegation members, including Non-Government members. Consumers Union strongly supports the statement and recommends its adoption, with two changes.
Clarity of the Statement. The statement clearly delineates and provides a basis for public understanding of the various aspects regarding the composition and functioning of U.S. delegations to various Codex Committee and Commission meetings.
Broadened Recognition of Stakeholder Interests. The statement explicitly recognizes public interest groups as representing crucial stakeholder interests regarding which the official U.S. delegate should consult in preparation for and during the course of Codex activities. It reflects the commitment of the U.S. Codex office during recent years to greater transparency and to greater consultation with consumer organizations regarding U.S. positions on Codex issues. It also reflects the growing awareness of such groups of the potential importance to U.S. consumers of Codex standards and their increasing interest in participating in the process of formulating and negotiating U.S. positions on the international food standards.
For decades, representatives of foods and related industries have pressed their views upon the official U.S. Codex delegations and the official delegates have been sensitive to American and multinational commercial interests in the development of international food standards. Industry representatives have served regularly as non-governmental members of U.S. delegations. However, the end product that is the subject of Codex activity is a consumer product and affects their health, nutrition and well being. It is a significant, if obvious, step that the statement recognizes the consumer stake in these standards in several ways:
- By providing specifically for public interest group participation in U.S. Codex delegations (Consumers Union considers it important that the official U.S. delegation, by example and through advocacy, take the lead in establishing a strong consumer consultative role vis-a-vis all Codex members’ national delegations. The proposed statement is an appropriate step in that direction);
- By clarifying that the purpose of private delegation advisors is to help meet the government’s need for expertise assistance with agenda items;
- By making explicit the recent U.S. practice of seeking more inclusive and balanced stakeholder representation in the preparation for Codex meetings and in the composition of private delegations that advise U.S. delegates at these meetings, and by asserting the intention of the U.S. Codex Office to undertake the outreach that may be necessary to achieve these ends;
- By providing that all applications for private delegation membership will be considered, that selection will be based on qualifications to address issues relevant to the business of the particular Codex meeting and not on the basis of the applicant’s particular views (with the affirmative protection of the constitutional rights of private delegates and the organizations they represent to express those views).
Responsibilities and Conduct of Delegates. The delineation of responsibilities between the official delegate and private delegation members is both necessary and appropriate, in order to assure that the government, not commercial or other private interests, are negotiating with other governments. And the statement of the responsibilities of and appropriate conduct by private delegates is, in our view, appropriately stated.
Suggested Changes. Consumers Union recommends two changes to the statement.
First, In the published federal Register notice, the “background” section that introduces the document states that private sector members of the U.S. delegations to Codex meetings participate at their own expense. It is unclear whether this is a statement of U.S. Codex Office policy, or a statement of practice necessitated by a lack of appropriated funds to assure the participation of stakeholder representatives who otherwise could not participate for financial reasons. We recommend that the statement be clarified to make clear that this is a matter of current practice. Deletion of the notice language regarding expenses and substitution of the following sentence would serve this purpose: “The government has no appropriated funds to assist interested individuals with their expenses.”
The reason for this recommendation is quite simple. The travel costs associated with participation as a private delegate are very substantial, often prohibitive for prospective public interest representatives. The statement’s goal of broader representation would be well-served if some funding expenses could be met by the government. Consumers Union recognizes that there is no such appropriation at this time and has not been for private delegates to standards or other commodity-related international meetings since Biden Amendment funding was discontinued in the early 1980’s. However, while it is appropriate for the statement to identify the current situation for the information of interested parties, we believe that this statement should remain one of information, not one of U.S. Codex Office policy. This would allow for possible future participation funding of parties who otherwise could not participate without a Codex Office policy reversal; a simple, brief amendment to the statement could be made in that event.
Second, the statement (at “I .B”) states that positions presented by the U.S. delegate “should be based on sound science and take into account United States statutes, regulations and policy.” It is important to clarify that the phrase beginning with the words “and take into account” expands upon, rather than limits, the principle of “sound science”. For example, both the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act and the Organic Foods Production Act provide for labeling that is partly on science, but also partly on the principle of consumers’ rights to information, without explicitly requiring that a thorough scientific basis underlie each and every labeling requirement or restriction. There is Codex activity with respect to both of these issues [LL, NG: is this correct?]. Therefore, the U.S. position should be based on U.S. policies with respect to such principles as consumer information and other valid considerations, in addition to the principle of sound science. This purpose can be achieved by revising the sentence in question to read: “Positions presented by the United States delegate should be based on sound science, United States statutes, regulations or other statements of United States policy, and other valid considerations.”
Conclusion. We commend the U.S. Manager for Codex Alimentarius for proposal of an excellent statement on the subject of U.S. Codex delegations and recommend that he issue a final statement that reflects these comments and suggested changes.