What’s Behind the Label: The Hidden World of Codex Alimentarius and Jerri Husch

Who among you have heard of Codex Alimentarius?  Not many I bet.  I’d like to consider myself relatively informed, but last night’s talk was my first introduction to Codex Alimentarius.  Jerri Husch, Ph.D, our presenter is a sociologist and professor.  She was a member of the WHO/FAO evaluation team that analyzed Codex Alimentarius.  She speaks from a place of integrity, experience and deep knowledge.  Her passion is evident as well as her commitment to get her hands dirty–literally and make change happen.

So back to Codex Alimentarius. This is a very complicated, contentious and controversial organization.  It is ostensibly an organization that creates global standards for food production and safety.  Yet it is also charged with decisions about the food we eat being made on the basis of trade agreements, politics and vested interests. Read more about Codex Alimentarius on Wikipedia, and here. This video, produced by the Codex Alimentarius describes how, in their words, the process works.

And a an alternative viewpoint:

Most of the people  reading these words  are conscious about the how the choices they make affect their health and wellness.  Yet the choices we make go far beyond our personal health to “hidden implications” world wide.  These are implications on indigenous cultures,  global economies and  the environment. Case in point–Quinoa.  Quinoa is a nutrient dense grain that has become very popular among the health conscious.  Grown for centuries in the Andes, this “lost crop” of the Incas has traditionally been a staple of the diet in places like Bolivia. As demand for quinoa has exploded, some of the implications for farmers who grow it has been an increase in income.  In an effort to increase production, Bolivian farmers are abandoning traditional farming techniques which endangers the eco-system.  Due to increased demand, fewer Bolivians can now afford this grain that has been a part of their culture for centuries.  When you can no longer afford quinoa, how do you feed your family? Cheaper, processed food with little nutritional value which, in the long run is sure to have far reaching affects on health and wellness.  Here are two links that go into greater detail on the global implications of the increasing demand for quinoa:  a 2011 article from the New York Times and a 2013 article from the Huffington Post.  Another example is the devastating effects of palm oil production, (most recently highlighted in the Girl Scout cookie controversy, but found in many processed foods), on health, natural habitats, indigenous people and subsistence farmers. Read more on that here in a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

So it’s good to really get a feel for some of the issues.  Beyond good, at this point, I think it is crucial, if we are to be informed, responsible consumers with not just our health in mind, but the health of the global food system as a whole.  However, knowledge brings with it a myriad of emotions ranging from disbelief to outright anger.  Individually it is hard at times to imagine that anything we do would result in real change.  But when individual band together, neighborhood, communities, cities, states and beyond begin to make very real differences that have larger, far reaching implications on the food system.  In the words of Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

One of those ways is to grow food.  Individual, families, schools, churches, businesses.  Create sustainable, edible gardens throughout your communities.  I am going to share two TED talks that are inspiring beyond words. Two men who have created movements, changed their communities and the lives of those living in these communities. Watch them both and see what dedication, determination, drive and passion can do. An individual, leading to a small group that is changing the world.


This is just the teeny tiny tippity tip of the iceberg.  If you want to read more, these are resources recommended by Jerri.

Advertisements