Watch out - the UN's after your vitamins

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The Independent Online
A Philosopher said, "The limits of my language are the limits of my world." Last week, as the New Academy of Business launched its new masters degree in Responsibility and Business Practice with Bath University, I was musing on my favourite subject - the power of language to shape thought. And, goodness, do we need to change the language of management? If we are to move into a new business world we need to reduce our fixation on operational control and the production of more. Language is just the catalyst. Open up a typical management book and you will find it hard to avoid words like leadership, team-building, culture, or customer service. However, you will be lucky to find words like community, social justice, ethics, human rights or spirituality - now there's a word that is truly kept in the closet and the key thrown away! Never mind a curriculum that includes subjects such as Social and Ethical Accounting, Human Rights and International Trade, or Gender Perspectives in the Workplace. The New Academy of Business aims to change all that.

Its masters course got off to a roaring start with an appearance by Hazel Henderson, an American economist. She challenged the appropriateness of relying on traditional economic measures as indicators of "progress". The analogy she made for global economics was that of the casino, with the globe rapidly becoming a playground for high rollers who can move capital and projects quickly from place to place, roaming from country to country, with no restrictions, moral or economic, in search of ever lower wages and looser standards. Hazel painted a picture of the global casino spinning out of control. One of her antidotes? Shift the burden of taxation away from "social" (employment) to "environmental" (such as the use of raw materials, and shared global resources like oceans and space). The big question for any public company remains: at what cost growth? The responsibility of delivering value to shareholders must surely sit alongside a broader corporate responsibility to stakeholders and the environment in which the business operates. One answer is further development of alternative and more appropriate measures of "real" corporate performance. These are dramatic days for global business.

If Conflict is the essence of drama, then I'm headed for some histrionics at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado, next week. One of the subjects is Can Capitalism Save Mother Earth? A fellow panellist is Dr Alston Chase whose impressive cv trails a string of political and academic credentials and consultancies. He challenges the notion of ecosystems as indicators of environmental health and questions the rising tide of political power wielded by environmentalists. He looks upon the battle between business and environmentalists as wasteful, stupid and harmful. As Dr Chase is considered a top dog of environmental scholarship in the US I find it extraordinary that he is affiliated with Wise Use, a right- wing group that advocates the maximisation of natural resources for human profit. Dr Chase recently said that environmentalists thrive on bad news. I think they thrive on ways out of bad news. Nobody needs to talk up bad news. It speaks for itself.

Environmentalists and some business people are asking questions. It is up to more business people to begin answering them. I'm looking forward to meeting Dr Chase but I feel unco-operative stress up ahead, so I'll keep taking the tablets.

But Not for long, if the United Nations has its way. The UN has always made sense to me, the idea of brokering peace between nations is certainly more preferable to an outright invasion. That said, what the hell is the UN doing invading the natural health industry? Who would imagine that a UN committee would one day be formed to decide for all of us something as personal as how we choose to use dietary supplements to maintain our health? Codex, the UN alimentation (nutrition code) commission, is currently proposing that no vitamins, minerals or herbs can be sold for preventative or therapeutic reasons. So, down the plughole goes years of accumulated knowledge and wisdom based on centuries of observation and experience. Codex has been given the role to set the standards of the global health industry. Yet no representatives of the natural health industry or complementary medicine professions have been called for their opinions. These meetings have never been made public and the only people playing a part in deciding to take away the freedom to choose natural remedies are the big players of the pharmaceutical industry. Of eight steps needed to acquire approval, they are currently at step five. Within two years we could have a reality in which a natural remedy can be sold only as a foodstuff. If it is sold as a curative, it will have to be listed as a drug and must then be controlled by the pharmaceutical industry. The latter will sell it on at hugely inflated prices to medical doctors who will prescribe it for you and me. So no more aloe vera, bilberry, camomile, feverfew, garlic, ginger, ginseng, hawthorn, liquorice, peppermint, St John's wort or one of the best anti-bacterial oils of all time - tea tree. These and many more will be replaced by expensive, patented prescription drugs.

Canada, Germany and Norway are already supporting these guidelines. Supplements are available in these countries but at hugely inflated prices. So, if you value your freedom of choice in health care, it may not be too late to stop this global suppression of complementary medicine. If the Codex commission has its way, then herbs, vitamins, minerals, homeopathic remedies, amino acids and other natural remedies you have taken for granted for most of your life will be gone. I just want to add one burning question to the subject: is the UN getting pharmaceutical money? If you are concerned, follow the developments on the web site