Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples: New CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition fail to pave the way to profound transformation

See below and our Previous blog for more on what happened the paragraph on the Code.

Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples: New CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition fail to pave the way to profound transformation

The USA and the International Code

IBFAN participated in the  intense negotiations of UN  Committee on Word Food Security (CFS47) 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)

When the discussions turned to the Code, we hoped that the inspiring statement of Dr Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden, at WHO’s Executive Board, signalled a 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  On the final days of the negotiations we could not speak again because CSM had withdrawn from the negotiations.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.

Rome, 20 April 2021 – Civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ organisations share with deep regret their collective and critical assessment of the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition (VGFSyN). The final VGFSyN present a lost opportunity to guide a much-needed radical transformation of food systems around the globe and effectively tackle the root causes of the growing hunger crisis….On the way forward, the CSM has announced that it will continue to disseminate its own vision for food systems and proclaim its critical positioning towards the VGFSyN,


EN VGFSyN20 April 2021

Press release | Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples: New CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition fail to pave the way to profound transformation

Public Briefing | CSM’s final assessment of the VGFSyN

The CSM has concluded its collective assessment of the final version of the VGFSyN and cordially invites CFS members and participants to participate in the public announcement of our positioning. Details of the Public Briefing available here

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