Category Archives: Food & Beverage

People’s Health Movement: A Call to Action on Nutrition, Food Security and Food Sovereignty

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In a commentary, in World Nutrition,  David Sanders, Claudio Schuftan, and Vandana Prasad write, “There are common roots underlying both under and ‘over-nutrition’ in our globalized world. These pertain to the impact on food systems of current practices related to food production, processing, manufacture, distribution, trade and commerce, as well as to the power differentials between those who are most affected by and those who benefit most from the current food system.

The unregulated penetration of food and beverage companies and the aggressive marketing of processed and ultra-processed foods have been severely compounding the problem of malnutrition and the underlying food insecurity.  This process is driven by mega agribusiness conglomerates and transnational food and beverage corporations through the employment of technologies and practices that are energy intensive and ecologically unsustainable, and that are also implicated in environmental degradation and climate change… In sum, malnutrition in all its forms, food insecurity and the erosion of food sovereignty are all socially and politically determined.  It is inadequate to acknowledge the continuing crisis of malnutrition and the inequalities it engenders without addressing their political roots and the conditions that perpetuate this.”

Four Recent Books on the Political Economy of Global Health

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Four recent books dealing with the political economy of global health are reviewed in a recent issue of Critical Public Health.  Drawing on the material covered in these sources, the reviewer argues that the concepts of capitalism, imperialism and class (at the national and global levels) are fundamental to a critical public health in the present era of economic globalization.

Analysis of corporate political activity strategies of the food industry: evidence from France

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A new study in  Public Health Nutrition  analyzed the corporate political activity (CPA) of major food industry actors in France. The  analysis shows that the main practices used by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s were the framing of diet and public health issues in ways favorable to the company, and their involvement in the community. The French National Association of Agribusiness Industries primarily used the ‘information and messaging’ strategy (e.g. by promoting deregulation and shaping the evidence base on diet- and public health-related issues), as well as the ‘policy substitution’ strategy. Nestlé framed diet and public health issues and shaped the evidence based on diet- and public health-related issues. Carrefour particularly sought involvement in the community. The authors found that, in 2015, the food industry in France was using CPA practices that were also used by other industries in the past, such as the tobacco and alcohol industries. Because most, if not all, of these practices proved detrimental to public health when used by the tobacco industry, we propose that the precautionary principle should guide decisions when engaging or interacting with the food industry.

Public Procurement of Food in Canada

Unhealthy foods are widely available in public settings across Canada, contributing to diet-related chronic diseases, such as obesity and diet-related diseases especially among vulnerable groups, including children and seniors. Healthy food procurement policies, which support procuring, distributing, selling, and serving healthier foods, have recently emerged as a promising strategy to counter this public health issue by increasing access to healthier foods. Although numerous Canadian health and scientific organizations have recommended such policies, they have not yet been broadly implemented in Canada.  To inform further policy action on healthy food procurement in a Canadian context, the authors conducted an evidence synthesis to assess the impact of healthy food procurement policies on health outcomes and sales, intake, and availability of healthier food. Based on this review, they recommend policies and practices for governments, publicly funded institutions, decision-makers and professionals, citizens, and researchers. They conclude that implementation of healthy food procurement policies can increase Canadians’ access to healthier foods as part of a broader vision for food policy in Canada.

Citation: Raine KD, Atkey K, Olstad DL,  et al. Healthy food procurement and nutrition standards in public facilities: evidence synthesis and consensus policy recommendations. Health Promot Chronic Dis Prev Can. 2018 ;38(1):6-17.

Holding Food Companies Responsible for Unhealthy Food Marketing to Children: Can International Human Rights Instruments Provide a New Approach?

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Public health advocates argue that unhealthy food marketing to children infringes children’s rights, given its link to obesity, and that states have an obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (‘UNCRC’) to protect children from such marketing. This article explains how international human rights concepts could be used to impose obligations directly on companies to modify their practices to protect children from unhealthy food marketing. We draw on the global governance framework that creates human rights obligations for businesses, and evaluate voluntary codes and initiatives on responsible marketing to children in Australia, to see whether they satisfy the obligations imposed under this framework and the UNCRC. Finding significant limitations in these measures, we set out recommendations for how the food industry could take an approach to food marketing that places children’s best interests as a primary consideration.

Citation: Handsley E, Reeve B. Holding Food Companies Responsible for Unhealthy Food Marketing to Children: Can International Human Rights Instruments Provide a New Approach?  University of New South Wales Law Journal, 2018 (41)2: 1-41.

90% of calories consumed by U.S. residents come from the commercial food sector

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Source:  USDA, 2018 from 2012-13 data.

This chart recently released by the USDA’s Economic Research Service shows that more than 90 percent of the calories consumed by U.S. residents come from the commercial food sector: supermarkets and other food stores, restaurants and other food service outlets.  Fewer than 10 percent of calories come from those sectors of the food system controlled by the public (e.g., school food), individuals or nonprofit organizations.  Since the composition of commercial sector food is highly controlled by giant food corporations, these products are more likely to be the high in fat, sugar and salt. The global food system is built on the more profitable highly processed products that are easier to store, ship and market, even though they are the primary causes of the global epidemics of diet-related diseases.

Nutrition and public health researchers and food advocates should be asking: what would it take to increase the less than 10 percent of calories that comes from sources other than Big Food to 15 or 20 percent?  And how can the non-commercial food sector—food systems controlled by public and civil society groups– serve as both a healthier alternative to and a competitive pressure on transnational corporate food producers?