While America Sleeps
While America Sleeps

s this is being written, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has been passed by both houses of Congress and is expected to be signed into law very soon. Ironically, it is managed trade, not free trade, that is favored. You don’t need 1000 pages to spell out free trade. Indeed, CAFTA is a Trojan horse, because it references the insidious international guidelines for nutritional food supplements recently adopted by the World Trade Organization’s Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex for short). Thus there is concern that CAFTA will force the United States to conform its laws to Codex.

According to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), one of the cosponsors of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), CAFTA will not block American consumers’ access to supplements, because that freedom is protected by U.S. law.1 “Any new law applying to supplements will have to go through the United States Senate. And I assure you that Senator Hatch [(R-Utah), also a cosponsor of DSHEA] and I will not let any international guidelines define what supplements can be made available here in the U.S. market.” Writes Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) in a recent congressional letter, “CAFTA will in no way affect the sales of dietary supplements.”

According to the National Nutritional Foods Association,1 there are other reasons why CAFTA will not affect the U.S. market for dietary supplements. The first reason is Section 102 of CAFTA, which states that no provision in CAFTA that is inconsistent with U.S. law will have effect, and that nothing in it will “amend or modify” or “limit any authority” of existing U.S. law. DSHEA remains the law of the land. Reason two is the FDA’s Modernization Act (FDAMA) of 1997, which, according to the Congressional Research Service, ensures that supplements “are not part of ongoing trade discussions.” Reason three is the Bush administration’s Statement of Administrative Action confirming that no “statutory or administrative changes will be required” to implement the measures relevant to supplements. Last, as stated in a Congressional Service Report, “Codex guidelines are not binding on any nation, unless the guidelines are incorporated into the laws of that nation.”

So why is Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), perhaps the only principled person in Congress, so up in arms about CAFTA and its possible effect on supplements?2

Europe has already adopted Codex-type regulations, under which even basic vitamins and minerals require prescriptions. Consequently, Paul believes, the Europeans will challenge our relatively open market for health supplements through the World Trade Organization (WTO), and this could lead to changes in our law. “Congress already has cravenly changed our tax laws to comply with a WTO order.” So a legislative outcome is hardly implausible.

Despite assurances from Harkin and Hatch, CAFTA increases the possibility that Codex will gain sway with other Congresscritters and will eventually be imposed on the American public. If CAFTA has nothing to do with dietary supplements, as its supporters claim, why in the world does it specifically mention Codex as a regulatory standard for nations that join the agreement?

It is clear that the international pharmaceutical industry has led a sustained effort to regulate dietary supplements worldwide, using WTO and now CAFTA to level the playing field to the same restrictions that they operate under. Nevertheless, Paul does not believe that CAFTA’s passage will result in the immediate outlawing of supplements. But it will give another international trade body a say over whether American supplement regulations meet international standards.

“And make no mistake about it, those international standards are moving steadily toward the Codex regime and its draconian restrictions on health freedom. So the question is this: Does CAFTA, with its link to Codex, make it more likely or less likely that someday you will need a doctor’s prescription to buy even simple supplements like Vitamin C? The answer is clear. CAFTA means less freedom for you, and more control for bureaucrats who do not answer to American voters.”

Fortunately, despite billions of dollars spent to get Washington to adopt European-style regulations, Big Pharma has failed to achieve its goals. In part, the credit is due to DSHEA, an Act abhorred by the medical establishment and pharmaceutical industry alike, because it treads on their ability to dominate the health industry. So to whittle away at DSHEA, drug companies have turned to international trade agreements such as WTO and CAFTA to make an end run around American law.

Concludes Paul: “The largely government-run health care establishment, including the nominally private pharmaceutical companies, wants government to control the dietary supplement industry so that only they can manufacture and distribute supplements. If that happens, as it already is happening in Europe, the supplements you now take will be available only by prescription and at a much higher cost—if they are available at all.”

So wake up, America! The handwriting is on the wall. If we are not vigilant in loudly proclaiming and defending our hard-earned rights to freedom of health choice, those rights will be gone tomorrow.


  1. Anon. Breaking news: July 28, 2005 – CAFTA passes house 217-215; trade agreement poses no threat to dietary supplements. www.nnfa.org/codex/news.htm.
  2. Paul R. CAFTA and dietary supplements. www.house.gov/paul/tst/tst2005/tst071805.htm.

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