NGOs Ask UN to Hold Industry Accountable for Impact on NCDs

Martha Kerr

September 16, 2011

September 16, 2011 — More than 140 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and public health organizations have signed on to a Statement of Concern, asking the United Nations (UN), ahead of its Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), being held September 19 and 20, to hold accountable those in the food and beverage industry "whose products and marketing contribute substantially to the development of NCDs that kill 36 million people every year."

Their plea is published online today in the Lancet.

"There are clear conflicts for the corporations that contribute to and profit from the sales of alcoholic beverages; foods with high fat, salt, and sugar contents; and tobacco products — all of which are important causes of NCDs," the NGOs assert.

In particular, the coalition points the finger at the tobacco and alcohol industries. Tobacco and alcohol use and a poor diet are responsible for NCDs that account for 60% of all deaths worldwide. The immediate causes of those deaths include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and cancer.

In their statement, the coalition voices concern about the influence that tobacco, food, and beverage industries have on public policy, and the possible interference by those industries in prevention efforts. There is the potential for conflicts of interest between the private sector and the public health sector.

"Policies and recommendations will invariably be weakened to suit the interests of the powerful corporations.... As a consequence, the public's health, workforce productivity, and the economy will be undermined by prioritizing the interests of the food and beverage industries, as well as the pharmaceutical, technology, and treatment companies, over the public good," the coalition writes.

The coalition requests that a clear distinction be made between business-interest not-for-profit NGOs (BINGOs) — which are set up by, represent, or are closely linked to business interests — and public-interest NGOs (PINGOs). They also call for conflicts of interest to be clearly identified as such, and a "code of conduct" for interactions between the food and beverage industry and NGOs.

"Failure to address these concerns will undermine the development of competent policy, the effectiveness and efficiency of programmes, and the confidence the global community and the public at large have in the UN's and [World Health Organization's] ability to govern and advance public health, which will severely impair their capacity to help member states address NCDs," the authors warn.

The Statement of Concern was issued with the support of Baby Milk Action/International Baby Food Action Network, World Cancer Research Fund International, Corporate Accountability International, National Heart Forum, Consumers International, Centre for Science in the Public Interest Canada/International Association of Consumer Food Organizations, Global Alcohol Policy Alliance, and the International Obesity TaskForce.

Lancet. Published online September 16, 2011. Abstract

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