Category Archives: Food & Beverage

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?

In NAFTA Talks, U.S. Tries to Limit Junk Food Warning Labels

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Source: OECD Obesity Update 2017

Urged on by big American food and soft-drink companies, reports the New York Times,  the Trump administration is using the trade talks with Mexico and Canada to try to limit the ability of the pact’s three members — including the United States — to warn consumers about the dangers of junk food, according to confidential documents outlining the American position.

The Mexican government support for such restrictions “is one of the most invasive forms of industrial interference we have seen,” Alejandro Calvillo, the founder of El Poder del Consumidor, or Consumer Power, a health advocacy group in Mexico told the New York Times. Heading off pressure for more explicit warnings through the NAFTA negotiation is especially appealing to the food and beverage industry, writes the Times, because it could help limit domestic regulation in the United States as well as avert a broad global move to adopt mandatory health-labeling standards.  “It kind of kills a law before it can be written,” said Lora Verheecke, a researcher at the Corporate Europe Observatory, a group that tracks lobbying efforts. “And once you put it in one trade agreement, it can become the precedent for all future deals with future countries.”

Sustain, an alliance of advocates in the United Kingdom working for better food and agriculture policies and practices, summarizes some of the ‘”barriers to trade” that a 2017 report by the  US Office of the Trade Representative identified:

  • Additional nutritional labelling such as traffic light labels in the UK and Ireland. The US is arguing that these initiatives must remain voluntary.
  • South Africa’s plans to introduce a sugary drinks tax in 2016. The US raised concerns that the tax would effectively discriminate against sugary drinks. The move jeopardizes $5m of US sugary beverage exports
  • Proposals by six Gulf states to regulate energy drinks, including introducing labelling statements about recommended consumption. (One estimate puts this market at $2bn.)
  • Efforts by Chile to clearly label products high in sugar, salt and saturated fat and restrict junk food marketing on packaging to children. The US has referred the Chileans to the WTO saying delays and repackaging has cost the US firms ‘millions of dollars’ in lost sales
  • A food act in Peru introducing mandatory front of pack warnings for pre-packaged foods high in sugar, salt and fat and restrictions on junk food advertising to children and young people
  • Indonesia’s attempts to introduce nutritional labelling for pre-packaged and fast food along with and regulations to limit advertising and health claims aimed at children.

Complexity and conflicts of interest statements: The Case of Coca Cola

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Statements on conflicts of interest provide important information for readers of scientific papers, write David Stuckler, Gary Ruskin and Martin McKee in the Journal of Public Health Policy in a case study of emails exchanged between Coca-Cola and the principal investigators of the International Study of Childhood Obesity, Lifestyle and the Environment. There is now compelling evidence from several fields that papers reporting funding from organizations that have an interest in the results often generate different findings from those that do not report such funding. The authors describe the findings of an analysis of correspondence between representatives of a major soft drinks company and scientists researching childhood obesity. Although the studies report no influence by the funder, the correspondence describes detailed exchanges on the study design, presentation of results and acknowledgement of funding. This raises important questions about the meaning of standard statements on conflicts of interest.