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Today's Question
Is Supplement Availability in Danger?

I'm very concerned about the Codex agenda/issue and our freedom to buy supplements. I read that Big Pharma is trying to take control of the supplement industry and to create the illusion that vitamins, minerals and herbs are dangerous and need to be prescribed by an M.D.

-- Lizzie

Today's Answer (Published 07/12/2005)
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I've had a lot of questions about Codex, often based on alarmist and erroneous information being circulated on the Internet. I'm happy to set the record straight. Here's the story: in 1963 the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization created the Codex Alimentarius Commission to protect the health of consumers and to ensure fair practices in the international food trade through development of food standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations.

For the past decade, Codex has been developing guidelines for vitamins and mineral supplements focusing on establishing new potency levels. Codex completed its work in November 2004, and the guidelines were adopted at the Commission's July 5, 2005 meeting.

This development has given rise to widespread misunderstanding. The thrust of the wrong-headed information being circulated on the Internet is that the Codex guidelines will restrict the availability of vitamins and minerals in the United States. Even more fanciful is the claim that once the Codex guidelines on vitamins and minerals are adopted, supplements that exceed the RDA will be available in the U.S. only by prescription and that this "stealthy" takeover of the supplement industry has been plotted in secret by the pharmaceutical industry working underneath the
radar in Europe.

None of this is true. First of all, the Codex guidelines are non-binding on the United States (or any other country) and do not override U.S. law as many people claim (only Congress can change U.S. law regarding supplements). This country's participation in Codex is strictly voluntary. The guidelines will not in any way affect the availability of supplements to consumers in the United States.

Here's what you should know about the Codex guidelines:

  • They're limited to vitamins and minerals only, and do not extend to herbs and other dietary supplements.
  • Contrary to the circulating scare stories, the guidelines do not set upper limits for vitamins and minerals in supplements. Instead, they specify that maximum amounts should be established by scientific risk assessment, a process that will now be undertaken by a panel of scientific experts.
  • There is nothing in the guidelines requiring that supplements be sold as prescription drugs in the United States or elsewhere.

As for the notion that the drug industry has engineered the Codex guidelines in an effort to take over the supplement market, the truth is that some of the largest supplement manufacturers in the U.S. already are owned by big pharmaceutical firms or their parent companies.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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