Joint meeting of the High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity and the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health on 26 October 2018, in Luxembourg

IBFAN has been a member of the European Commission’s Platform for Action on Diet Physical Activity and Health since 2007. The Platform brings together Commission staff, NGOs and some of the world’s largest food and advertising corporations. We have always been in ‘two minds’ about the wisdom of being part of the Platform- which began as an experiment – with the Commission promising that if it didn’t work, regulation on marketing would follow. We have used it to  gain access to policy makers,  to lobby against public private partnerships, to highlight the need for effective EU regulations on marketing, especially on baby formulas and foods and to insist that policy setting, monitoring, and education is free of commercial influence. If ever industry or commission members tried to describe the Platform as a  ‘Partnership’ we said we would leave.

Despite some tweaking of the rules regarding transparency (members descriptions of themselves) and the relevance of the voluntary commitments,  corporations use it to showcase their products and as  public relations cover for continued bad practice

High Level Meeting in the morning, the Platform Meeting in the afternoon. Luxembourg,  Friday 26th October 2018.

This was yet another example of  these risks and why we believe that the Multi Stakeholder Model slows down, effective action to protect health.  The fact that there is still no evidence of the Platform’s effectiveness and that meetings have been reduced from 4 to 2 per year indicates that the Commission, NGOs and many EU Member States know that the experiment has failed.   Sadly the disenchantment has come too late and the MSH model has spread far and wide.

At the beginning of the meeting, John Ryan referred to the recent UN meetings on NCDs and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) stressing the importance of involvement of all stakeholders. I mentioned that whenever talking about the SDGs, the EU should  highlight the need for Conflict of Interest safeguards and proper governance. John Ryan also mentioned malnourished children in the context of the SDGs, saying “what gets measured gets done”.  I questioned this in the case of infant feeding, since it often leads to the delivery of products rather than a focus on unmeasurable interventions such as training and appropriate care.

An example from Friday’s meeting: DANONE 

Danone nutrition commitments & added sugar reduction Agnès Martin, PhD.
Danone, Health & Diet Advocacy Director Joint meeting of the High Level Group on Nutrition & Physical Activity and the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity & Health Luxemburg October 26th, 2018

During the morning session, in front of the EU Member States High Level Group, some of us complained that Danone – the world’s second largest Code violator and baby food manufacturer – was given the opportunity to boast about its added sugar reduction efforts and how its ‘in-depth knowledge of local habits and cultures’ and ‘health-focused portfolio .. allows Danone to be a key player in the Food Revolution.

Asked about the permanence of their Platform commitment they said this was indeed a global roll out – with the objective of 100% compliance by 2020. We were told that we would see bigger reductions in Latin America where products are  traditionally sweeter.  I asked about single use plastic – they said they have to use plastic because the products are fragile – but they are working on biodegradable alternatives.

Danone  failed to explain why they are replacing sugar with starch, why the energy levels in the products remain the same and what this means in terms of obesity reduction. Nor did they explain the use of maltodextrin.  They said they are launching plain – unsweetened products – but that research shows that consumers add a lot of sugar at home so it can be worse!  In answer to a question from Austria, they said the Danonino brands are  sweeter – because they are for children. Danone stressed the costs and risks of this plan, and its Step by step approach, with no package claims. Their  aim is to ‘keep consumer preference’ – but there is no guarantee of success.

We got no real answers about their violations of the International Code or the sugar levels in baby foods and follow-on formulas for babies 12-36 months recommended by WHO (and called for by EU Parliament in 2016).   They claimed to be aiming for 0% added sugar in infant formula.

Item on Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: FoodDrinkEurope inquired if the initiative could be extended to include processed fruit and vegetables. The Chair replied that the aim for now is to focus on fresh food and vegetables only.
Risks of relying on NGOs to improve  Multi-stakeholder Platforms:
  • they don’t always show up;
  • they may be co-opted and drawn into inappropriate funding arrangements and partnerships
  • their role as independent monitors and watchdogs of corporate activity can be compromised;
  • their presence can enhance the credibility of the MSH model and increase the risk of image transfer (white/blue washing)

 

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