(CNS): Despite pressure from global public health advocates, world leaders missed a critical opportunity to put in place strong safeguards to protect public health from corporate conflicts of interest. The undue influence of profit-driven transnational corporations in the food, beverage, tobacco and pharmaceutical sectors means that current policies promote private interests instead of public health.
The UN High Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases adopted a strategy at the United Nations General Assembly intended to address the growing crises of tobacco- and nutrition-related diseases that kill millions of people every year. However, the agreement could allow the same corporations which perpetuate and profit from these diseases to use the outcomes of the forum to deflect real policy changes and binding measures to hold these corporations accountable.
More than 140 public health organizations from around the world, including Corporate Accountability International, Centre for Science in the Public Interest Canada and the International Baby Food Action Network, called for urgent action to address the growing crisis of noncommunicable diseases, particularly epidemics of corporate driven tobacco- and nutrition-related diseases, which are the two primary causes of preventable death globally. These groups have signed a joint letter calling for the establishment of clear and enforceable standards to prevent corporate conflicts of interest.
“If we are to reverse the staggering rates of preventable illness and death, the WHO and UN must safeguard public health policy from conflicts of interest,” said Gigi Kellett, a campaign director with Corporate Accountability International. “A fox guarding a hen house is a fox guarding a hen house. The global community has removed the tobacco industry's seat from the tobacco control table due to its history of interference in policy. It's time we hold other industries contributing to or profiting from today's public health epidemics similarly accountable.”
The WHO has enacted strong safeguards to prevent corporate conflicts of interest in relation to tobacco. For example, Member States continue to make strides protecting public health policy against interference from the tobacco industry due to implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Article 5.3 establishes the tobacco industry's fundamental conflict of interest with public health, encourages governments to reject partnerships with industry and avoid 'revolving doors' between industry and regulators. The WHO estimates that, when fully implemented, this groundbreaking treaty will save 200 million lives by 2050.
“World leaders need to demonstrate their dedication to public health nutrition as they have already begun to do for tobacco control. Leaders fall short when they white-wash ineffective food industry promises, and duck specifics on regulatory reform while backward-looking World Trade Organization rules (and Codex Alimentarius Commission nutrition standards) tie the hands of national governments,” said Bill Jeffery of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest-Canada and the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations.
In addition, the WHA resolutions on Infant and Young Child Nutrition and the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health can be used among other helpful tools to establish measures that also go beyond individual conflicts of interest and address institutional conflicts of interest.
"The multitude of 140, and counting, public interest groups calling for safeguards against conflicts of interest cannot be ignored, and citizens in any country don't have to be experts in good governance to know that the fox belongs outside the hen house,” said Patti Rundall of the International Baby Food Action Network. “Having industry at the table can be ruinous for consensus on public health priority-setting, and virtually guarantees the lowest and most useless common denominator,” she added.
“Here at last is an opportunity to advance a global response to a public health crisis that is driven by narrow private interests. It's critical that we not lose sight of what is at stake: millions of lives,” said Kellett. “The same corporations which stand to profit most from these diseases are using this forum as a means to deflect real policy changes and binding measures that hold these corporations accountable. We need strong commitment from countries to do what it takes to reverse this epidemic while keeping those private interests that perpetuate and profit from it out of the policy debate.” (CNS)
Citizen News Service (CNS, www.citizen-news.org)