As part of the new “Nutrition Voices: the Signal and the Noise” video series, Nutrition International’s President and CEO Joel Spicer spoke with Lucy Martinez Sullivan, Founding Executive Director, Feed the Truth, to talk about the role of multinational food and beverage companies in the global nutrition ecosystem.

Their conversation, which was just released online as the first episode of Nutrition Voices: the Signal and the Noise, covered the current challenges faced by the global nutrition ecosystem, the increasingly prominent role of multinational food and beverage companies, and the relationship between public interests, private interests, and conflicts of interest.

Read our seven key takeaways from their discussion and watch the full video (below) to listen in on this candid conversation:

  • Multinational food and beverage companies that contribute to malnutrition – including companies that produce breastmilk substitutes − have become too close to the nutrition policy space. They are posing themselves as an essential part of the solution to a problem of their creation. The reason for this should be clear: to shape and control global nutrition policy to their benefit. The nutrition community needs to recognize and call out the danger, push for increased transparency and keep corporations at arm’s length.
  • ‘Private sector’ is an unhelpful term that muddies the waters. Instead, we should specifically highlight the role of multinational food and beverage companies and be much clearer about the risks of engaging with them.
  • Industry associations that represent multinational food and beverage companies must also be factored into discussions about how to limit industry influence. They also do not belong in the nutrition policy space.
  • When it comes to multinational food and beverage companies and their industry associations − principles of engagement (PoEs) by international non-governmental organizations, the United Nations and others are inconsistent and, in many cases, inadequate. We must close these loopholes and all non-corporate actors engaged in the nutrition policy space should have clear and transparent PoEs that prevent conflicts of interest. There are precedents taking hold such as those set through the global tobacco treaty, that would guard against conflicts of interest in nutrition policy.
  • Some organizations are legitimizing multinational food and beverage companies and their industry associations by bringing them into the nutrition policy space. This ‘reputational laundering’ is problematic for the integrity of the global nutrition community. Much greater transparency and analysis is needed on this – particularly on funding flows and conflicts of interest.
  • Industry self-regulation, which has time and again proven ineffective, is not the answer to the growing problem of malnutrition caused by multinational food and beverage companies. Strong regulatory, legislative, and tax policy environments are essential for safeguarding food systems, so they deliver health rather than obesity and non-communicable diseases.
  • It is a false premise that engagement with multinational food and beverage companies is ‘pragmatic’, while non-engagement is ‘dogmatic’ or close-minded.  Integrity and ‘do no harm’ are non-negotiable principles for the nutrition community and must be paramount when considering corporate engagement.

Nutrition Voices: the Signal and the Noise is a video interview series designed to explore issues in nutrition that don’t always get the attention they deserve. This platform will invite experts to share their thoughts, observations, research, experience, and questions about how we can all work together more effectively and more openly in nutrition.

Watch the full first episode featuring Lucy Martinez Sullivan below, and consult Feed the Truth’s call for transparency to see what you can do to help.