Why the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) global pledging initiative is a threat to child health

– how industry infiltrates the baby food policy space.

 

“At a time when poverty rates, economic disparity, conflicts and hunger are rising, N4G promotes short term treatment models again, with little attempt to create  real sustainable changes in food systems. The N4G fails to recognise that the agro-industrial model bears much of the blame for the climate crisis and poor diets. Its reliance on market-led approaches and export-oriented trade of ultra-processed products inevitably leads to increased deforestation, land-grabbing, mono-cropping etc.  
With the 40th Anniversary of the International Code on the 21st May coming up,  yet another corporate-inspired initiative,  Nutrition for Growth (N4G) threatens to undermine national governments attempts to regulate and prevent harmful marketing. 
N4G describes itself as a “global effort to bring together country governments, donors and philanthropies, businesses, NGOs and beyond.” in a “rare opportunity to accelerate progress on malnutrition.” 
Yet behind its glossy appearance, is hidden a plan for  increased involvement and influence of  food and agri-business  in national health policy setting.  In the case of infant and young child feeding N4G is especially dangerous.
Page 11 of the  April 21 version of the N4G Commitment Guide shows a model Commitment for all to follow: (click here for N4G website)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 1: Examples of SMART Commitments.

The Responsible Party for Policy is: Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women and Social Affairs, Ministry of Education, with input from National Industry Associations.

The Responsible Party for Programmes is: Donor or philanthropic organization in partnership with local civil society organizations.

We are grateful to WHO, UNICEF and others for  persuading the Government of Japan to exclude individual companies from the event. However,  food Business Associations will be invited including those who represent and lobby for companies that market products covered by the code (breastmilk substitutes, complementary foods, ingredients, feeding equipment, milks for mothers, food supplements, therapeutic or other products marketed in ways that undermine breastfeeding etc. )

There is no mention of how these companies undermine health and the environment by promoting the consumption of ultra-processed high sugar/salt foods. (1,2) Civil society’s role is confined to being a partner to Donors in the implementation.

The intention is clearly to blur the identities of corporate members while increasing their influence in the shaping of and implementation of national policies. This would be dangerous for all food sectors but in the Infant and Young Child Feeding arena it is disastrous.

This would cover the marketing of foods for infants and young children, including the high-sugar Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTFs) and supplements. IBFAN is not saying that the products are never useful  – they can be important if there is no other  option. However it is critically important that their use and distribution is not commercially influenced. We know that the baby food industry is eager to partner with humanitarian agencies to deliver them and IBFAN is working to ensure that  they are not sold on the open market or promoted with claims or other methods.

We can only conclude that fundraising is N4G’s secondary  motive. The main one is to provide image transfer opportunities for food industry associations so that they can sit by the side with the governments when nutrition policies are made – this is a long-term financial benefit to industry worth far more than any donation.

Interesting that on a global level the International Special Dietary Foods Association (ISDI) that represents the baby food industry in 20 countries lost its Official Relations status with WHO in 2013

There is no evidence that the N4G strategies will bring sustainable benefits to the people most affected by hunger and malnutrition. Indeed our 3-country study on Scaling Up NutritionWhen the SUN Casts a Shadow, led us to the same conclusions. While many organisations have joined SUN in order to protect child health, IBFAN believes that averting the underlying risks of such initiatives is a relevant contribution to protect children in long term.   Among other things the study found that SUN:
  • promotes nutrition approaches that favor short-term medicalized and technical solutions;
  • promotes intensive agriculture and technologies such as biofortification that benefit food and agro-industry;
  • neglects the commerciogenic causes of malnutrition (under and over nutrition) and its focus on market-led approaches to food fortification can undermine confidence in breastfeeding and sustainable, culturally appropriate local foods;
  • has limited impact on reducing malnutrition through its interventions, while carrying negative implications for human rights;
  • enhanced private sector access to and influence on nutrition policy setting in line with the World Economic Forum’s model outlined in its Global Redesign Initiative;
  • attempts to generate the illusion of a broad and inclusive people’s ‘movement’ but is in fact a public-private hybrid which legitimizes more corporate influence in public affairs;
  • fails to meaningfully address the concerns of communities most affected by hunger and malnutrition and undermines the efforts of those calling for effective conflict of interest regulations.
N4G is one of number of  initiatives has sprung up over the years that  fit well into the World Economic Forum’s Global Redesign Initiative plan.   SUN GMM BMS  Call to Action,  Access to Nutrition   Power of Nutrition. Many have been funded by the Gates Foundation and many  promote the idea that market-led approaches and private sector funding is the answer to the world’s nutrition problems. N4G criteria,  follow the faulty Conflict of Interest rules used by SUN, WHO’s FENSA,  the BMS Call to Action and Access to Nutrition Index ATNI does commercially biased  monitoring. Its methodology and presentation of results integrates the ‘perspectives and expertise of companies, CSOs and investors.’
Further observations:
  • IBFAN expects that baby food industry will use very weak Para 3.5.1.d of the CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Food Food Systems and Nutrition (VGFSyN) as an ‘entry ticket’ to many of these  initiatives.  This paragraph fails to refer to the Resolutions or the need for regulations. It also calls on everything to be ‘”in line with [existing] national legislations”,   so undermining the need for new or stronger laws. SUN and N4G are both footnoted in the VGFSyN Guidelines. ThCivil Society and indigenous People’s Mechanism  has decided to reject the guidelines 
  • Harmful businesses will benefit in many ways through their association with the UN, N4G and the relief of hunger. As GAIN’s Director, Lawrence Haddad described in his global appeal for food industry funding: “The benefit to corporates would be threefold, say those behind the fund. Firstly, contributing firms would be more attractive to the growing band of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investors. Second, it would increase the bottom line – studies show that strong corporate social responsibility adds to return on assets after the first two to three years. Third, it would give employees a greater sense of purpose. Younger employees in particular are looking to reward companies that display a greater sense of social mission. They are looking for increased meaning in their work.” 

IBFAN is appealing to everyone involved in maternal and child health to be aware of these often overlooked risks and not to promote these initiatives.

Powerpoint presentations:

N4G GBC (2)

Multistakeholder power

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