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Will the member states take on big Food?

May 20, 2014

In the era of nutrition being taken over by the Big Food, and businesses are enjoying equal power in decision making on policy and programmes, writes Arun Gupta.

Arun Gupta

New Delhi: The Sixty seventh World Health Assembly begins in Geneva today, and among many other issues will be taking up an important agenda to sort out what is inappropriate promotion of baby foods for infants and young children is. If it goes wrong, it would mean allowing the commercial market of baby foods to make money at the cost of children’s health.

In January 2014, the WHO Executive board took a decision “noting the work carried out by the WHO Secretariat in response to resolution WHA65.6, requesting the Director-General “to provide clarification and guidance on the in appropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children cited in resolutionWHA63.23, taking into consideration the ongoing work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission” and recalling resolution WHA63.23, urging Member States “to end inappropriate promotion of food for infants and young children”… ; and further requesting the Director-General to complete the work, before the end of 2015, on the development of recommendations for Member States on how to ensure appropriate marketing of complementary foods, for consideration by Member States at the Sixty- ninth World Health Assembly;

The resolution 63.23 never called for any action on appropriate marketing, nor its definition, still the final action in the decision is to ensure appropriate marketing of complementary foods. Can someone explain the logic? Couldn’t quite understand.

Unfortunately, this decision, looks like going the other way. In fact it seems to distort and absolutely changes the direction set out in the in the World Health Assembly Resolution 63.23.  It smells of a commercial angle here. “Marketing appropriately”. Ensuring appropriate marketing does raise a question? Can some one define any appropriate method of marketing of commercial complementary foods? This is obviously coming from the Big Food Lobby.

I can understand if a government wanted to promote home based foods through media it could be termed appropriate. But that would not require a resolution or would that. But you do need a resolution, and hence a ‘regulation’ to stop something that harms public health.

Now the next step is that the Health Assembly is invited to note the report and consider the draft decision recommended in decision EB134(2), in particular providing further guidance.

Challenge is thus thrown at Member States.

The agenda is likely to come up on Tuesday or Wednesday for discussion. Given the track record of the baby food companies of continued violations of the International Code of Marketing for Breastmilk Substitutes and World Health Assembly resolutions putting profits before health of children, in undermining women’s confidence in sustainable family foods, and given the evidence that processed foods links with non communicable diseases, it is important  to take action and keep the spirit and letter of the World Health Assembly resolution 63.23 alive and not allowed to die.

In the era of nutrition being taken over by the Big Food, and businesses are enjoying equal power in decision making on policy and programmes in SUN networks, it would be interesting to see which way the wind blows.

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