MESSAGE TO DAVID CAMERON'S HUNGER SUMMIT - don't partner with food giants or forget breastfeeding and the underlying causes

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Press Release: DAVID CAMERON'S HUNGER SUMMIT -  don't partner with food giants or forget breastfeeding and the underlying causes 

12th August 2012

Baby Milk Action welcomes David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister's call to address hunger,  but is concerned that part of the call could  promote partnerships with commercial companies that undermine child health. 


There are many underlying factors that exacerbate food shortages and hunger -  but when public private partnerships  (PPPs) are promoted as the solution there are many risks.  


'Partnerships' by their very nature involve shared  decision-making.   Not surprisingly,  the companies most keen to enter nutrition 'partnerships' are the ones that promote unhealthy foods and products and systematically  violate the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes  and Resolutions -and  the WHO Guidelines on Marketing to Children.  


Patti Rundall, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action says: "PPPs can deter policy makers from taking the tough decisions to  control  marketing, encouraging them instead to opt for voluntary industry-friendly approaches, 'market-led' strategies that promote 'slightly better for you' junk foods alongside corporate-funded education programmes. Sadly these strategies can exacerbate the problem and lead to the double burden of malnutrition - both under and over nutrition.  If Governments are serious about finding long term sustainable solutions  to hunger it is essential that they address conflicts of interest properly and protect their health policy planning and implementation processes from undue influence from commercial companies.   Indeed the World Health Assembly in May 2012 - specifically called on governments to deal with conflicts of interest."     


Because the first two years of life of are so crucial, it is essential that governments  regulate and monitor marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding and sustainable, affordable nutritious family foods.  (2)


In 2011,  a Statement of Concern developed by the Conflicts of Interest Coalition (COIC) was endorsed by 161 national, regional and global networks and organisations working in public health and development.   The statement focused on the lack of clarity regarding the role of the private sector in public policy-making and calls for the development of a Code of Conduct and Ethical Framework to help protect the integrity of  public policy decision-making, to ensure it is transparent and to identify, safeguard against and manage potential conflicts of interest.

The COI Statement calls for:

  • a clear distinction to be made between business-interest not-for-profit organisations (BINGOs) and public interest non-governmental organisations (PINGOs) 
  • a clear  differentiation between policy and norms and standards development  and appropriate involvement in implementation. 


Notes for editors: 

Stunting - Stunting is caused by sub-optimal nutrition during pregnancy and  feeding in the first two years of life. Diarrhoea during infancy is a significant factor. WHO has documented the link between stunting, diarrhoea and lack of optimal breastfeeding especially during the first six months.  Good complementary feeding has also been recognised to significantly reduce stunting.  “Diarrhoea often leads to stunting in children due to its association with poor nutrient absorption and appetite loss. The risk of stunting in young children has been shown to increase significantly with each episode of diarrhoea and diarrhea control, particularly in the first six months of life, may help to reduce stunting prevalence among children.” 


Why protect breastfeeding?   There is no food more locally produced or sustainable than breastmilk. One-fifth of deaths among children less than five years could be prevented through optimal infant and young child feeding[1]  A breastfed child is less likely to suffer from gastroenteritis, respiratory and ear infections, diabetes, allergies and other illnesses. In areas with unsafe water a bottle-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea. Reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save 1.5 million lives around the world every year. Breastfeeding helps fulfill the UN Millennium Development Goals and has the potential to reduce under-5 mortality by 13%. A further 6% of deaths could be saved through appropriate complementary feeding. Breastfeeding also provides health benefits to the mother, such as reduced risk of some cancers.


In emergency situations infants and young children are at greater risk[2] [3] [4], for example, in Botswana in 2005/6 infants who were not breastfed were 50 times more likely to need hospital treatment, and much more likely to die[5]. Optimal infant and young child feeding and care of non-breastfed infants according to international guidelines[6] saves lives. Further children who are fed well in infancy are not only more likely to survive but also to reach their physical and cognitive potential. A failure to address infant and young child feeding needs both during and outside of emergencies will derail initiatives and efforts to reduce chronic undernutrition. 


1 Business of Malnutrition breaking down trade rules to profit from the poor

2 It is also essential to tackle sanitation, water and maternity protection, and acknowledge  the inter-related nature between nutrition, the right to food and health and sustainable livelihoods and economies and the root causes of poor nutrition of women, such as structural violence, inequality and discrimination. 



Emergency references [1] Jones, Gareth, et al., ‘How many child deaths can we prevent this year?’ The Lancet, vol. 362, no. 9377, 5 July 2003, pp. 65–71.



[4] WHO. Guiding Principles for Infant and Young Child feeding during Emergencies. 2004

[5] Creek T, ArveloW, Kim A, Lu L, Bowen A, Finkbeiner T, Zaks L, Masunge J, Shaffer N and Davis M. Role of infant feeding and HIV in a severe outbreak of diarrhea and malnutrition among young children, Botswana, 2006. Session 137 Poster Abstracts, Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Los Angeles, 25-28 February, 2007.

[6] IFE Core Group. Operational Guidance on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies. v2.1, Feb. 2007. This document  is endorsed by WHA: Resolution 63.23 (May, 2010)