It’s always encouraging to see more experts from a variety of fields (i.e.: nutrition, public health, public policy, sociology) publicly denounce public-private food industry partnerships.
This article from The Independent quotes University of California Davis associate professor of public health sciences Roberto De Vogli, who explains how and why voluntary deals with fast-food chains are founded on “pure illusion.”
Though the article focuses on partnerships between the food industry and government, what professor De Vogli says can equally be applied to health organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which operate from the idea that partnering with industry is the key to successfully battling diet-related health epidemics.
“Asked about the Government’s voluntary “responsibility deals” with industry, which the Department of Health claims “tap into the potential for businesses and other influential organisations to make a significant contribution to improving public health”, Professor de Vogli was scathing.
“There is no question,” he said. “Big corporations have a mission to maximise profit. If we hope and expect that profit-driven businesses will safeguard public health, it is pure illusion.”
We are in full agreement. We are baffled by the insistence that “sitting at the table” with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and General Mills is the key to progress, especially since any thoughtful health-focused strategy would first and foremost aim to minimize consumption of products made by these companies. This idea of ‘sitting at the same table’ appeals to the food industry because it gives it an opportunity to defend itself against any possible harm to its bottom line.
The article continues:
“Policies that governments should adopt include subsidising fruit and vegetable growers’ economic disincentives for producers of ultra-processed fast food such as french fries, burgers, soft drinks, sweets and ready meals; and penalties for excessive use of fertilisers, pesticides, chemicals and antibiotics. Fast-food and soft-drinks companies should also be restricted in their advertising activity, particularly on promotions aimed at children.
“Governments should take steps to regulate the economies – not let the invisible hand of the market self-regulate the food system,” Professor de Vogli said.”
It’s increasingly becoming clear that the Academy’s staunch defense of its ties to industry — once the norm in the realm of public health — is a remnant of an era that is coming to an end. There is a real opportunity, right now, for the Academy to forge a new path and join the hundreds of experts around the world who think the public-private partnership model needs to be reevaluated.