Pests behind Codex standards

Swearing by them is nothing more than laziness and deception of regulators

Published: Monday 31 May 2004

-- INDIAN authorities responsible for regulating pesticides have one big obsession: Codex. Officials, from both the ministries of agriculture and health and family welfare, have favoured taking refuge in standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). And they are not alone. The Indian industry, and its various associations cannot be more thankful. Why? Because Codex standards are lax.

The CAC was set up in 1961 and has two major arms: the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) World Health Organization (WHO) Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) and the Codex Committee on Pesticides Residue (CCPR). While the JMPR sets the standards for acceptable toxicity levels of a pesticide, the acceptable daily intake (ADI), the CCPR sets up the standards for amount of pesticides that can be allowed in raw agriculture commodities, the maximum residue levels (MRL). It is clearly evident that standards set by Codex are lenient when compared to some of the national standards set by a few countries. For example, the JMPR ADI for malathion, a pesticide, allows people to consume ten times more of the chemical than allowed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Is the tolerance level of a person in US less than that of one in India?

The CAC reiterates that health is first on its agenda. They also admit that they depend, entirely, on the data supplied by the manufacturers of chemicals. It is argued that the data is reviewed and peer-reviewed very carefully. And there remains the provision of an 'honest' manufacturer's willingness to stop supporting a chemical upon any report of adverse effect when standards set for it can be withdrawn! No one bothers about the adverse effects that shows up much after a chemical has been used. Fact remains that the Codex process is a negotiated one and, to an extent, dominated by trade agenda. Top CAC officials accept that the participation of developing countries in the Codex process is at best, token. JMPR does not even have a representative from India.

Codex process is clearly outdated. Codex is yet to look at standards for processed, multi-constituent food seriously (see interview: "Governments should try for 100 per cent pure water"). In the new world, trade in food products is not limited to only raw agricultural products. Consumption of industrially processed packaged food is increasing at a whopping rate all across the globe. Transnational corporations are selling unsafe "composite" food and beverages happily, hiding behind weakness of Codex. Our protectors fail to hear public outcry over unsafe food, and unwise use of pesticides. Time has come to formulate and implement our own standards taking our own diet habits into account. Waiting for a 'reformed' Codex can turn out to be very expensive in human terms.

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