The Code and other safeguards threatened  by corporate friendly Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition.

The Plenary session of the UN  Committee on Word Food Security (CFS47) ended on the 11th February, after several weeks of intense negotiations over the  CFS VOLUNTARY GUIDELINES ON FOOD SYSTEMS AND NUTRITION (VGFSyN)

IBFAN has been a member of the CFS’ Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) for many years and has contributed to the development of the 2014 Rome Declaration on Nutrition, spoken at CFS events and worked on these Guidelines.  In recent years the CFS has moved to a ‘multi-stakeholder mode’ with a Private Sector Mechanism (PSM) that has become larger and more influential over the years. This commercial influence is evident.(1)

It has been painful to watch the negotiations on the Guidelines and see powerful exporting nations attempt to undermine the status of UN treaties and resolutions.(2)

The USA and the International Code

The CFS VOLUNTARY GUIDELINES ON FOOD SYSTEMS AND NUTRITION (VGFSyN) cover a huge range of issues and the near final draft contained several useful paragraphs on breastfeeding and marketing.  However, during the discussions, the US shocked everyone when it single-handedly removed text that would curtail marketing.

We hoped that the statement of Dr Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden, at WHO’s Executive Board, signalled a welcome new approach to global health.  Sadly, new US appointees are not in position everywhere and the delegates to the CFS  did everything they could to undermine the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.  They succeeded in removing all references to Regulations and to the Code’s subsequent relevant WHA Resolutions – safeguards that been been included in drafts since the start of negotiations (1).  The final US-approved paragraph may look benign,  but will  certainly be used by baby food industry to advocate for weak measures to control harmful marketing:

3.5.1.d “Governments should implement measures or national mechanisms related to the marketing of commercial infant formula and other breast milk substitutes aimed at giving effect to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes (fn58), as well as other WHO evidence-based recommendations, where applicable, in line with national legislations. Governments should monitor and continue to assess the impact of their measures. (fn58) International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. WHO, 1981. Geneva

How did this happen?  On the final days of the negotiations we could not speak again because CSM had withdrawn from the negotiations.  After all its strengthening amendments had been blocked by the US,  Norway, supported by Canada, Russia and UN Nutrition attempted to correct the footnote 58 to ensure it included the Resolutions along with the correct  link on the WHO website. (4) Canada stressed that the work done over 40 years to update the Code was very important. WHO, as part of UN Nutrition, explained that it has always been WHO’s position that the Code has to be seen in conjunction with the subsequent Resolutions, as one body. The fact that a member state disassociates itself from a Resolution, does not nullify that it should not be referred to. WHO created the new link to ensure that the Code and all the Resolutions related to marketing could easily be read together.

The US said it would not support any mention of the Resolutions because it had disassociated itself from a number of them.(5) It would, however, accept the original Code (which it didn’t vote for in 1981) and ‘evidenced-based’ recommendations ‘where applicable’  that are ‘in line with national legislations.’  In terms of increasing the protection of breastfeeding and maternal and young child health from harmful marketing, the paragraph brings everything down to the lowest common denominator, especially  for those countries that have weak or non-existent legislation. With no support for their proposal, and the chair wanting to close the debate, the US threatened to open up the most contentious footnote (39BIS) knowing that to do so would trap everyone into endless further discussion. The Chair moved quickly to adopt the Footnote as the US wanted.

During the Plenary session on 10th February and later, a number of Member States made oral and written statements ((Norway statement ) about the weaknesses in guidelines, with some regretting the weak paragraph on the Code. Dr Yamamoto, Chair of UN Nutrition (the newly-merged UNSCN and UN Network for Scaling Up Nutrition(SUN)  ) referred to the Resolutions, saying it was of  the utmost importance that infant and young child health is not put at risk (see webcast  Day 3 Afternoon 21-26 mins )Dr Francesca Branca of WHO (Day 3 Afternoon  49-52) made a strong statement about the importance of tackling harmful marketing including through the Code and WHA Resolutions,  regulations and fiscal measures, sugar taxes etc. Gerda Verburg, Executive Director of SUN  (Day 3 morning, 2.40) said she did not want to see the Code weakened in anyway and that the Guidelines should not replace resolutions and Codes that have already been agreed, such as the International Code and Resolutions. However, since SUN is a Public Private Partnership,  she also called on baby food companies to promote breastfeeding. It is not clear what was meant by this, because WHA Resolutions have clear Conflict of Interest rules regarding baby food involvement in infant and young child feeding.  The last thing parents and children need is a Nestlé sponsored breastfeeding poster.


In frustration over the process the CSM decided to leave the Guidelines negotiations, remaining as observers.  The CSM will make a decision on whether or not to endorse the Guidelines, only after consultation with its member constituents.

At the Plenary CFS47 the following week the Guidelines were noted and will go forward to the UN Food Systems Summit scheduled to take place in New York in September 2021 in conjunction with the UN General Assembly, preceded by a pre-Summit in Italy in July 2021.

(Page down to see what happened to the Code). Click here for the CSM statements that explain why the Guidelines are so bad. Also statements from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri. Below Isa Ivarez reads CSM Statement on 4 February 2021

Statement from the High Commissioner for Human Rights

“…The Guidelines should have acknowledged and promoted the responsibilities of the States in regulating businesses’ activities to promote the availability and accessibility of healthy diets, including through fiscal incentives and disincentives. In this context, the Guidelines could have stressed the responsibilities of the private sector to do no harm and respect human rights, including the right to food and the right to health of the population at large and of children in particular.”

For more statements page down

Speech by Shalmali Gutta, Focus on the Global South.  10 February

“…we have a document that does not protect broad based public interest, public health, our eco-systems; or the rights and capacities of the millions of small-scale food producers, workers and communities who have built multiple, diverse food systems around the world, and who are the proven lifelines of our societies, economies and environments.

Instead, we have document that protects a system of globalised, corporate dominated trade, investment and finance, that benefit the world’s 10 percent, but has wreaked havoc on our planet and majority of the world’s people …..We reiterate our concern that the Summit is advancing a dangerous, deceptive and insidious form of multi-stakeholderism in the multilateral system of the United Nations, which:

  • blurs the identities and responsibilities of rights holders and duty bearers;
  • through the language of “partnerships” enables wealthy, powerful corporations and their organisational extensions to assume crucial decision-making positions with no democratic accountability..”

CSM withdraws from the negotiations on 29 January 2021 by Sofia Monsalve (FIAN)

“It was with a heavy heart that we walked out of the session of the Friends of the Chair session earlier this afternoon. After all, the reformed CFS is an open body to the participation of the constituencies most affected by hunger and food insecurity.”





Some notable Excerpts from Statements made on February 10th


In the context of the negotiation we have expressed the concern that, in the spirit of compromise
the text of the Voluntary Guidelines does not fully reflect the recommendations of mandated
international bodies and normative agencies. This is not going to be beneficial to public health.
Examples include among others
– removing recommendations on ’fiscal policies’ or ‘economic tools that may include taxes and
subsidies’ in the recommendations on improving availability and affordability of food that
contributes to healthy diets
– removing the reference to “subsequent relevant WHA resolutions” in the description of efforts
to support breastfeeding and implementation of the Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes;
– weakening the language to “avoid inappropriate marketing of foods and non-alcoholic
beverages to children”
– the removal of reference to the elimination of use of antimicrobials for growth promotion


Statement from the High Commissioner for Human Rights

“…The Guidelines should have acknowledged and promoted the responsibilities of the States in regulating businesses’ activities to promote the availability and accessibility of healthy diets, including through fiscal incentives and disincentives. In this context, the Guidelines could have stressed the responsibilities of the private sector to do no harm and respect human rights, including the right to food and the right to health of the population at large and of children in particular.”


“…..We respectfully offer three reflections on the development of the guidelines that may be useful to consider in future processes.

“… There is a need for all Members and stakeholders to be mindful of the diversity in national circumstances and not try to insert their preferred approach into every paragraph of a document which, by design, must be adaptable to national contexts when implemented.”






(1) FAO and Danone team up to foster sustainable diets and food systems 17.10.19.

Hundreds of civil society organizations worldwide denounce World Economic Forum´s takeover of the UN  17.1.20

(2) One of the most contentious issues was a  Footnote to Para 39 that undermined a whole range of Treaties and Resolutions. A US proposal (eventually not accepted)  read:   “Treaties in the list below are only relevant for the parties to each respective treaty; other documents listed are not legally binding and reference to them shall not be interpreted as a sign of support or acknowledgement by countries that abstained or voted against their adoption and have not since then expressed their support.” Friday 29th January the CSM to leave the negotiations on 29th January and we stayed on in the negotiations as an observer only.

(3) Chairs proposal for first draft October 2019 The 19 subsequent relevant WHA Resolutions are critically important in the protection of breastfeeding and maternal and child health and have helped governments forbid marketing techniques such as health and nutrition claims, free and low-supplies of breastmilk substitutes and misleading marketing of baby foods. Eight resolutions have called for conflicts of interest safeguards, not only in health care but also in monitoring.

(4) Proposed Amendment by Norway supported by Canada, Russia, UN Nutrition:  (57) International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. WHO, 1981 Geneva. ADD: and subsequent relevant WHA resolutions

(5) The US was the only country to vote against the Code in 1981.  However in 1994, under the Clinton administration a consensus was reached to support a Resolution condemning company donations to health care systems. During the debate, African delegations vehemently rejected the assumption that Africa needed the donations, that are nothing more than a promotional technique.  Kenya stated that if the issue came to a vote, it would insist on a roll call of member states “so that those who are unfair to babies, would be known by name.”  (See Update 14, October 1994, Page 6) Since 1994 the US has endorsed all subsequent WHA resolutions – which generally recall all previous Resolutions. The Codex Infant Formula Standard which the US endorsed, The application of this section of the Standard should take into account the recommendations made in the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (1981), the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding and World Health Assembly resolution WHA54.2 (2001) [WHA54.2 recalls 11 previous WHA Resolutions]



  • Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems & Nutrition, noted at the CFS47 this week undermine the importance of the WHO Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes and WHA Resolutions. Maternal and child health needs protection from harmful marketing.
  • Countries have negotiated Guidelines on Food Systems & Nutrition at @UN_CFS  We urge govts to support safeguards against conflicts of interest in research and infant feeding care.
  • Negotiations on Food Systems and Nutrition have now finished at the @UN_CFS   We urge govts to push for strong, mandatory marketing regulations for ultra-processed foods, including marketing in digital media and on product packages



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