Indian Alliance Against Conflict of Interest writes to Minister about Nestlé.

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Cerelac in India Feb 2011Cerelac in India Feb 2011"The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made"    Jean Giraudoux (1882-1944).


In Update 43 and our briefing "Tackling Obesity: Using Education to Build Trust" - we warn about Nestlé's education strategies that already reach 5 million children and which they are rolling out in 80 countries.  The articles below show that health experts in India recognise that these offers of 'help' are not what they seem. (vote on this poll if you are interested: _

You're paying food giants to ' educate' you on nutrition

By Dinesh C. Sharma in New Delhi

FOOD giants are surreptitiously using the public- funded education system to promote commercial brands and encourage consumption of unhealthy foods in the name of ' nutrition education', a group of health experts has warned.


" Collaborations of food multinationals with public- funded educational institutes to educate girls and women about food and nutrition are ploys to exploit them for commercial gains," points out the Alliance Against Conflict of Interest ( AACI) in a letter written to HRD minister Kapil Sibal.


The group has asked the minister to issue a new directive to make collaborations between food companies and educational institutions illegal.  Such a directive could be issued under the National Council for Higher Education and Research.


A string of agreements between Nestlé and several agricultural universities to take up programmes for " creating health and nutrition awareness of village women and girls in government schools in rural areas", has prompted the AACI to take up the issue with the government.  " We strongly believe that commercial entities such as Nestlé exploit such partnerships to promote their image and brands, which includes artificial milk and snacks as fast foods," the letter said.


The intent to target adolescent girls in India for commercial gain has been expressed publicly by Nestlé's vice- president of public affairs at a meeting in London in May 2010, according to the letter.


The letter quotes the official as saying: "This is important to us because it's consumer demand of demanding better nutrition products that's going to make us a successful business....We've started a programme to educate teenage girls on good nutrition before they get married and become pregnant, because that's where we think we have to start, really - before the woman even becomes pregnant. So we strongly believe in the power of education."

" The MoUs between Nestlé and Indian public sector universities is reprehensible as the food giant is facing a criminal case in India for violating the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods ( Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act," said Dr Arun Gupta, the AACI's convener and head of the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India.


Nestlé's tie- ups with publicly- funded institutions are not an isolated case.  PepsiCo has signed a deal with the Indian Medical Association ( IMA) for school health promotion programmes.The IMA is also endorsing some of the company's products, despite the Medical Council of India terming such sanctions unethical.

Globally, food companies are trying to form associations with medical bodies to promote an image of their products as being healthy.

Here's the link:

see also:

Treading The Fine Line  Nestle’s awareness programme runs too close to marketing   Business World Article, 28.1.11, Prasad Sangameshwaran 


It pays to keep away from private-public partnerships, especially if you plan to ‘only’ create awareness on a topic that complements the business you are in. Last week, foods giant Nestle was probably chewing hard on this thought. The company found itself in an uneasy position in India, when  it received unfavourable media coverage for a nutrition-awareness programme that Nestle India had launched in schools in association with universities such as Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana; National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal, Haryana; University of Mysore in Karnataka; and the GB Pant University for Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand. 


The programme modules spelt out basic knowledge relating to foods: the manner in which food is digested, how one can improve the balance of nutrients in diet, how cooking practices can improve nutrition, the need for food hygiene, sanitation and exercise. The universities provided inputs on making the modules relevant to specific locations. PAU indicated that iron deficiency is high in that region. So, the modules stressed on consumption of green vegetables to address the iron deficiency. Mysore university suggested that since the general trend is to consume food with high cholesterol, the modules in that region should stress on balanced diets and smart cooking practices.


But an RTI application filed by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India to these universities evoked a response from Nestle that said: “The contents of the programme are of a commercial and confidential nature and the disclosure of which may harm our competitive position.” This led to other questions. If there are competitive interests, was Nestle using public-funded institutions to further its brand promotion? In that case, were these universities being adequately compensated (at Rs 2.5 lakh)? Many felt the universities have sold out rather cheap for supplying their research inputs to Nestle. In a response to BW, Nestle said: “The wording of the earlier letter seems to have created a misunderstanding... the limited purpose of the confidentiality clause was to ensure that the Nutrition Awareness Programme was not exposed until it was ready for public roll out.”


But has Nestle been indulging in a quasi-marketing exercise by talking to children directly, that too through schools? As per recommendations of the 63rd World Health Assembly, on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, the WHO member states only endorsed prevention of  marketing foods that are high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt in settings such as schools, pre-school centres or even playgrounds and paediatric services.


Then in August 2010, the health and family welfare ministry and the women and child development ministry issued a joint letter to state governments coming down heavily on the trend of baby food companies offering inducements to doctors by sponsoring seminars, distributing gifts to paediatricians, and so on. In this instance, Nestle cannot be pronounced guilty on any of these two counts. Yet, it flirted with danger on two separate cases. First, Nestle and the universities probably assumed that they could adopt a private business-like approach and keep things under wraps in a public-private partnership till the project is up to scale. Second, the joint initiative did not seem like a partnership of equals, when PAU, an independent public body, actually checked with Nestle executives if it could share  information about the programme under Section 6 of the RTI.



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