Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The risks associated with Big Food funding

Boyd Swinburn, Professor of Population Nutrition and Global Health at the University of Auckland , blogs on the issue of funding and food.

At the recent International Congress on Nutrition, the big global gathering of nutrition scientists every four years, I was invited to give a presentation, but when I tried to get the Congress to send out a press release on my message criticising Big Food, the organisers declined to do so. Big Food were major sponsors of the Congress.

I recently had a rather challenging and delicate time trying to get a joint press release out in the name of the recent International Congress of Nutrition - a big global gathering of nutrition scientists that occurs every four years.

It appears the big corporate sponsors of the event did not take kindly to my belief that Big Food undermines healthy food policies.

I do understand where these conference organisers are coming from: I have been the president and council member of several professional and scientific organisations and we were always faced with this dilemma of wanting to put on a good, affordable conference with top speakers without having to rely on sponsors that blow our organisation’s credibility.

As I did not succeed in getting permission to have a press meeting (or issue a press release in the name of the conference), I am trying other means to get the messages out. My writing is usually by way of logical, scientific papers (in fact, I think this might be my first official blog), so bear with me while I give you the background to this.

Over the last several years, it has become increasingly apparent that Big Food is he major barrier to getting governments to act on things like soda taxes or getting consumer-friendly front of pack labels. These multinational corporate giants will come down on policy makers like a ton of bricks if they even attempt such regulations.

As an example, Norway, which has been the global champion for regulating junk food marketing to children, is struggling heavily against industry pressure in even getting its own regulations enacted.

Several Latin American countries have seen a burst of government attempts to get healthy food policies to help combat their growing obesity problems and each time they have been battered to the ground by industry pressure (with the recent success of the Mexican junk food and soda tax an honourable exception).

The usually conservative World Health Organisation, has become very outspoken with the Director General, Dr Chan, lumping Big Food and Big Soda into the same basket as Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol who wrote the text book on how push governments around.

At the obesity conference Bellagio, Italy a few months ago, several developing countries presented papers about their country’s progress on addressing obesity. Whenever governments attempted to enact healthy food policies, Big Food rose up to squash them down.

We heard the story so many times that the group decided to make a declaration on Big Food’s influence on undermining healthy food policies and called on governments, WHO, international agencies, researchers, foundations and civil society to undertake specific actions to address this.

This increasing trend of big business dominating public policy development really worries me as a health professional and a citizen. Although I am supposed to be a dispassionate researcher, I can’t help getting very heated about this corporate hubris and erosion of democratic processes.

If your temperature is also going up as you read this, check out the Bellagio Declaration which suggests actions that governments, civil society, academia and funders can take to counter the undermining influence of Big Food on healthy food policies


  1. Thanks for the link to the Bellagio Declaration.

    Here is a link to the opening address, dr. Chan gave at the 8th Global Conference on Health Promotion, Helsinki, Finland: http://www.who.int/dg/speeches/2013/health_promotion_20130610/en/

  2. Big food? What on earth are you talking about? that companies like coca cola donated their entire marketing budget in the phillipines to the typhoon recovery fund? what did you do with your fee from the congress? did you donate it to the fatties at the pie store

  3. Give me back my tax dollars you trougher !