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Help or hindrance? Corporate involvement in international nutrition and alcohol laws

16 Sep 2011

A consortium of non-profit public health advocacy groups will press world leaders and other representatives of the 193 member states to call for strong public policy measures to curb nutrition and alcohol-related diseases and safeguards against conflicts of interest in the policy-making process when they meet in New York City at the United Nations General Assembly next week.
The U.N. High Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases will adopt a strategy at the General Assembly on Monday and Tuesday, September 19-20, 2011, following difficult negotiations on a Political Declaration that began in June.

Last year, the U.N. pledged to create a strategy to limit cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases caused by poor nutrition, excess consumption of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and physical inactivity. Negotiations during the summer revealed competing views about the effectiveness of voluntary food industry efforts, adequacy of existing international law, and the role of for-profit companies and public-interest groups in the policy-making process. The public-interest groups stress that governments now have an unprecedented full and sophisticated grasp of gigantic health and economic burden NCDs, but have been decidedly naive about conflicts of interest in policy-making. (See the near-final Political Declaration at http://www.who.int/nmh/events/un_ncd_summit2011/political_declaration.pdf , program agenda at http://cspinet.org/canada/pdf/summit-information-note-9-sept-2011.pdf , and the statement of the Conflict of Interest Coalition at http://cspinet.org/canada/pdf/conflict-of-interest.pdf )

  • Leaders simply must get fundamental disease rate-reduction targets locked in—starting with 25% by 2025—and really embrace effective regulations on population-level salt reduction and trans fat elimination, nutrition standards for school meals, food tax reform, controls on the marketing of high fat, salt and sugar foods and alcohol to children and young people, and front of pack labelling in order to safeguard the health and economic development, nationally and internationally,” said Paul Lincoln of the UK-based National Heart Forum.


  • World leaders need to demonstrate their dedication to public health nutrition as they have already begun to do for tobacco control. Leaders fall short when they white-wash ineffective food industry promises, and duck specifics on regulatory reform while backward-looking World Trade Organization rules (and Codex Alimentarius Commission nutrition standards) tie the hands of national governments,” said Bill Jeffery of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest-Canada and the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations.


  • The United Nations needs a sensible, evidence-based and experience-informed code of conduct to ensure that commercial operations in food, alcohol, drug and other industries do not impair progress or the effectiveness of NCD prevention policies, said Dr. Kate Allen of the World Cancer Research Fund International.


  • Manufacturers and distributors of alcohol beverages are bound to continue to promote their vested interests by supporting ineffective ‘educational’ programs and obstructing the implementation of effective legislative measures such as tax increases and advertising restrictions, said Derek Rutherford, Chair of Global Alcohol Policy Alliance.


  • The multitude of 140, and counting, public interest groups calling for safeguards against conflicts of interest cannot be ignored, and citizens in any country don't have to be experts in good governance to know that the fox belongs outside the hen house,” said Patti Rundall of the International Baby Food Action Network. “Having industry at the table can be ruinous for consensus on public health priority-setting, and virtually guarantees the lowest and most useless common denominator,” she added.


  • At this summit we have the ridiculous state of affairs whereby representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and the food and drink industry will be speaking as civil society. The WHO needs to clearly recognise the differences between industry lobbyists and pubic interest NGOs and develop meaningful rules to manage the potential conflicts of interest that arise when engaging with the private sector,” said Indrani Thuraisingham, Consumers International.


  •  Sky-high rates of obesity and overweight among children and adults in developed countries are spreading to many emerging economies with calorie-dense, nutrient-poor salty, sugary, fatty foods. Meek requests for further voluntary forbearance by the food, drink, and advertising industries are no substitute for regulatory limits on advertising to children,” said Professor Shiriki Kumanyika.