The Business of malnutrition - profiting from the poor

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Along with a dozen developing countries and our IBFAN partners we achieved partial success at the November meeting of Codex (the WHO/FAO body that sets international food standards), by stopping the use of promotional claims on labels and advertising of fortified foods for babies.  

Among those calling for the claims in order to ‘prevent mallnutrition’ were the baby food industry and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), a public private partnership that works with over 600 companies, including Danone, PepsiCo, Mars and Kraft. Thankfully, Brazil, Nigeria, Chile, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Gambia, Togo, Cameroon, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, South Africa and Bolivia, backed by WHO, spoke up in favour of the WHA Resolutions that call for an end to such marketing. 

The multi-billion profits to be made from exports to the developing world are tempting, especially if they can masquerade as being ‘humanitarian.’ But there are huge risks when the focus is on babies. Baby food promotion can undermine breastfeeding, increase family poverty and create dependence on expensive and often unnecessary products. Malang Fofana, the head of the Gambian delegation, expressed the fears of many:

“Because of the move to ‘product-based’ solutions, funding is already drying up for most infant and young child feeding support programs and for community-based approaches that teach and promote skills to make nutritious family foods from local indigenous ingredients. I fear that once this runaway train leaves the station there will be no stopping it.”

Codex is always a tricky forum. This time 40% of the 268 delegates were from the food industry, with 59 as BINGOS and 49 on government delegations – some even heading delegations. The Mexican delegation was 100% industry and made many industry-friendly interventions, 12 of 15 on the German delegation were industry.

For a fuller press release follow this link:

GAIN abandons Monitoring Protocol

A GAIN-sponsored initiative, Access to Nutrition Index, proposed to monitor breast milk substitutes marketing by focusing on compliance with companies’ own policies and statements. Following our complaints GAIN accepted that the scheme risked being a whitewashing excercise so the idea was abandoned.


SUN worry

When fortified processed foods are promoted as the first solution to malnutrition, governments can come under pressure to enter partnerships with businesses whose interests conflict with public health objectives. Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) describes itself as a ‘movement’ and has been promoting partnerships for the last two years in order to raise the profile of nutrition. However SUN has not yet established principles of  engagement with the private sector.


Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

In his report, Olivier De Schutter, the Special Rapporteur, calls on countries that are committed to ‘scaling up nutrition’ to

“begin by regulating the marketing of commercial infant formula and other breast-milk substitutes, in accordance with WHA resolution 63.23, and by implementing the full set of WHO recommendations on the marketing of breast-milk substitutes and of foods and non- alcoholic beverages to children, in accordance with WHA resolution 63.14.”  

GAIN is requested to “include a clear exit strategy to empower communities to feed themselves”  ...“when ecosystems are able to support sustainable diets, nutrition programmes, policies and interventions supporting the use of supplements, RUTF [ready- to-use therapeutic foods], fortificants and infant formulas are inappropriate and can lead to malnutrition, and ... the marketing of these food substitutes and related products can contribute to major public health problems.”  


Governments should govern - Corporations should follow the rules

Baby Milk Action's Patti Rundall and Mike Brady have had a paper with the above title published in SCN News. SCN is the UN System Standing Committee on Nutrition. The theme of the issue is Nutrition and Business: How to Engage. 

To download high-definition pdf version - click here  (7Mb)
To download low-definition pdf version - click here  (4 Mb)



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