For network marketers of dietary supplements, there's good news and bad news. The good news: experts predict that the wellness industry is our next trillion-dollar business. The bad news: your continued right to freely participate in that industry is under serious threat.
DSHEA, the WTO and "Harmonization"
The famous Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) currently protects the rights of Americans to access dietary supplements; however, it may not do so for much longer. Along with the other "inalienable rights" Americans enjoy, we'd like to know that we can include the right to freely purchase and use dietary supplements. Alas, it's not quite that simple.
Based on the success of efforts to globally "harmonize" trade laws, that right may be under threat.
Established on January 1, 1995, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations; its 145 member countries include the United States.
One of the WTO bylaws (to which all member nations must subscribe) is the "harmonization rule," under which all member nations must revise their national laws related to trade so that they are in agreement, or "harmonized." Any country failing to comply with this rule is brought before the WTO Dispute Resolution Panel and, under threat of economic sanctions, forced to harmonize its laws. The elected Dispute Resolution Panel meets and rules in complete secrecy. There is no right to appeal--its decisions are final.
Codex Alimentarius: A Dangerous Animal?
How does the WTO affect DSHEA and the availability of dietary supplements?
The WTO recognizes the Codex Alimentarius ["food code"] Commission as the primary international agency in setting standards for food and food (or dietary) supplements. The Codex Commission is run jointly by the World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization "to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice" that apply to food or food supplements.
Recognition by the WTO gives the Codex Commission's "food standards, guidelines and related texts" a global application that may even supercede national laws (such as DSHEA) and regional laws (such as the European Union's recent "Food Supplements Directive"). The Commission is currently debating the introduction of standards that would restrict the availability of dietary supplement ingredients, including vitamins and minerals, to levels little higher than those of the Recommended Daily Allowance, or RDA. This debate is based on the "precautionary principle" developed by the European Union. The Codex Commission is also considering a ban on references that indicate diet-ary supplements are effective against diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
In other words, the Codex Alimentarius and WTO could be about to tell you what you can and can't do with your nutrition-based network marketing business.
The European Parliament
Where does the European Union (EU) fit into this picture?
The EU is a full voting member of both the Codex Commission and the WTO. Just as the WTO recognizes the Codex Commission as the primary authority on dietary supplement laws, the Codex Commission recognizes the European Union's "Scientific Committee on Food" as its primary authority on food and dietary supplement laws.
The EU has recently introduced a new law that applies in all its member states (currently 15, but growing to 25 by 2004). The new law will restrict the availability of various micronutrients--and will remove about 5000 products from sale by August 2005. This directive will also ensure the introduction of upper "safe limits" on dosage levels for vitamins and minerals based on "scientific risk assessment."
The EU's scientific committee has never recommended dosages higher than the current RDA for any vitamin or mineral.
The Chain of Command
The alliance between the Codex Commission, the WTO and the EU could lead to the end of DSHEA and a worldwide ban on safe, effective and side-effect free natural remedies. Here's how:
What Can You Do?
What you can do is what network marketers do best: speak up--with passion.
Every citizen concerned about the continued availability of safe and effective dietary supplements should contact his or her elected officials to oppose the harmonization of international trade laws that threaten DSHEA and their fundamental right to freely access natural therapies.
It makes good business sense to do so: The preservation of DSHEA will mean that dietary supplements would continue to be widely available to all who manufacture, distribute or use them. That's an inalienable right we can ill afford to lose.
is a long-time corporate officer in network marketing, and serves on the board of directors of Gabriel Media Group, publishers of Networking Times. The author and editors send a special thanks to Kathleen Deoul for bringing this issue to our attention.