The International Baby Food Action Network Newsletter

Protecting the International Code at the Codex Alimentarius


IBFAN's efforts to protect breastfeeding through the implementation of the International Code is constantly facing new challenges.


  Globalization, a euphemism for global corporate domination, has taught us that it aims to eliminate measures that impede their perceived right to markets. The infant foods industry is no exception, as it embraces the World Trade Organization to rid itself of trade barriers such as the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. The Codex Alimentarius is where the revision of standards of both infant formula and cereal based complementary foods are under consideration. This global body jointly administered by WHO and FAO can be seen as a one giant structure to deregulate to the lowest common denominator, food commodities and products and facilitate access to global markets. Corporate food giants: Kraft, Nestlé, General Foods, Unilever, Heinz, Gerber, Mead Johnson, are the major players. Corporate rights to trade and market infant feeding products across national borders will be settled by the standards set by means of the Codex process.

Global disparity in Codex participation


Traditionally Codex has been the domain of industrialized countries, serving the needs of the processed foods industries, while those providing the commodities, primarily from developing countries, remain on the side lines. Part of IBFAN's work at Codex has been to lessen this disparity. Funds have been raised to increase participation by developing countries. This has served not only to decrease the skewed representation but also to change the level of discussions from trade priorities to human health. IBFAN has to date hosted a number of training programmes to facilitate such participation -- for Africa, South East Asia, and Latin America.


IBFAN Codex training, Pretoria, South Africa

Pretoria, South Africa, IBFAN Codex training, June 1999. From left to right Thabisile Hlatshwayo-Moleah, Elisabeth Sterken, Paluline Kisanga, Trudy van Ommeren.


IBFAN's achievements at Codex

Participation in the mix of government bureaucrats, corporate representatives and their consultants has been a major focus of IBFAN's Codex work over the past five years. Our work is centred on the revision of two infant food standards -- infant formulas and cereal-based foods for infants and young children. And our efforts are making headway in strengthening the text.

At the recent meeting of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU), held in Berlin June, 2000, keeping the International Code and relevant WHA resolutions in the Scope of the document was one of the major objectives.

  • to ensure that the two infant food standards are in conformity with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and all subsequent relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly,
  • to ensure the protection of optimal infant feeding practices of exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months, and the appropriate introduction of nutritious, local, complementary foods while continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond,
  • to ensure that food products intended for infants and young children are as safe and nutritious as possible,
  • to ensure that the food products intended for infants and young children are labelled to inform parents about the nutritional content, the appropriate use, the correct mixing, storage and feeding of those products. And that there be no misleading information or claims which idealize the products.

Did we achieve our objectives?

1. Proposed Draft Standard for Infant Formula

  • We were able to retain the International Code and relevant resolutions in the Scope of the Standard, albeit in square brackets (remains under discussion). IBFAN's contribution of very strong arguments by delegates from Africa and Latin America made it morally difficult to speak out too strongly against the International Code, hence the unsuccessful attempts by the Chair and the Secretariat to use procedural arguments to try to eliminate the International Code and subsequent WHA Resolutions relating to infant and young child nutrition.
  • In the Labelling section we did achieve some consumer protection improvements such as the discarding of left over formula, the advice of an "independent" health worker and the need for improved labelling to clearly distinguish between formulas recommended for different ages. However these are not central to our mandate in the protection of breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding practices. The prohibition of health claims on product labels and accompanying literature remains a critical objective for our Codex work.

2. Proposed Draft Revised Standard for Processed Cereal-Based Foods for Infants and Young Children

  • As this standard is wide open in both definition and composition, and the age of introduction remains a contested issue, the fact that it stays at Step 4 gives more opportunity and time to gain national and international support to improve this proposed draft standard.
  • The age of introduction remains open for discussion. Although the text still reads four to six months, we now have some breathing space to continue the lobbying and gain national support for the "at about six months" position. This position is supported by many infant feeding experts, literature reviews, Pan American Health Organization, and over sixty countries have now adopted this as national policy.

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