by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Partnerships

Sep 30 2011

Disappointing UN Declaration on chronic disease prevention

As I mentioned in a previous post, the United Nations General Assembly met this month to consider resolutions about doing something to address rising rates of “non-communicable” diseases (i.e., chronic as opposed to infectious diseases such as obesity-related coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancers).

The Declaration adopted by the Assembly disappointed a consortium of 140 non-profit public health advocacy groups who issued a statement noting the conflicts of interest that occur when international agencies “partner” with companies that make products that contribute to an increase in disease risks.”

The consortium suggested actions that they hoped the U.N. would recommend, such as:

  • Realign food policies for food and agricultural subsidies with sound nutrition science
  • Mandate easy-to-understand front-of-pack nutrition labeling
  • Ban the promotion of breast-milk substitutes and high-fat, -sugar and -salt foods to children and young people
  • Prohibit advertising and brand sponsorship for alcohol beverages
  • Increase taxes on alcohol beverages
  • Expand nutritious school meal programs

The group also said that the U.N. should still work on:

  • Developing tools to navigate the trade law barriers to health policy innovation,
  •  Establishing disease-reduction targets and policy implementation schedules
  • Instituting mechanisms to keep commercially self-interested parties at arms-length and public-interest groups constructively involved

Food companies and trade associations are actively involved in lobbying the U.N. not to do any of these things.  This consortium has much work to do.


 

 

Sep 13 2011

It’s OK to use food stamps to buy fast food? Better check for conflicts of interest

Readers Robyn and Will sent me a link to an ABC News story about Yum! Brands efforts to get more states to authorize the use of food stamp (SNAP) benefits in fast food restaurants.

Michigan, California, Arizona, and Florida already do this.  Yum!, the parent company of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, wants it to go national.

They write:

We believe that food stamps should be used to buy nutritious food for kids and families, not junk food! This nonsense has to stop!  This is a government program–it should not be a means for corporations to sell products that will eventually lead to ever-increasing health problems–obesity, heart issues, diabetes, etc. What can we do to be heard?

USA Today did a story on this last week.  It elicited more than 1,000 comments.  I’m not surprised.

The issue thoroughly divides the food advocacy community.   Public health and anti-hunger advocates sharply disagree on this issue, as they do on the question of whether sodas should be taxed.

USA Today quoted Kelly Brownell, director of Yale’s anti-obesity Rudd Center:

It’s preposterous that a company like Yum! Brands would even be considered for inclusion in a program meant for supplemental nutrition.

But then the article quoted Ed Cooney, executive director of the Congressional Hunger Center and a long-time anti-hunger advocate:

They think going hungry is better?…I’m solidly behind what Yum! is doing.

Of course he is.  Want to take a guess at who funds the Congressional Hunger Center?

Yum! is listed as a “Sower,” meaning that its annual gift is in the range of $10,000.   I’m guessing Yum! is delighted that it is getting such good value at such low cost.

USA Today was negligent in not mentioning Mr. Cooney’s financial ties to Yum! and other food brands.  Such ties matter, and readers deserve to know about them.

But Mr. Cooney’s argument worries me on grounds beyond the evident conflict of interest.

For one thing, it smacks of elitism.  “Let them eat junk food” argues that it’s OK for the poor to eat unhealthfully.  I think the poor deserve to be treated better.

For another, promoting use of SNAP benefits for fast food and sodas makes it and other food assistance programs vulnerable to attack.

Rates of obesity are higher among low-income groups, including SNAP recipients, than in the general population.

Anti-hunger and public health advocates need to work a lot harder to find common ground if they want food assistance programs to continue to help low-income Americans.

Let’s be clear about what’s at stake here.  SNAP is an entitlement program, meaning that anyone who qualifies can get benefits.

In June 2011 alone, according to USDA, 45 million Americans received an average of $133 in benefits at a total cost to taxpayers of more than $6 billion.

That’s a lot of money to spend on fast food.  Yum!’s interest in getting some of that money is understandable.

If you think low-income Americans deserve better:

  • Complain to Congress for permitting the legal loophole that allows this.
  • Insist to USDA that SNAP benefits be permitted only for real food.
  • Get your city to recruit farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and other sources of healthy food to low-income areas.
  • Let your congressional representatives know that you want a safety net for people who are out of work that enables people to eat healthfully.
  •  And tell the Congressional Hunger Center and similarly inclined anti-hunger groups that you think conflicts of interest interfere with their ability to help the clients they are supposedly trying to serve.
Sep 8 2011

No Surprise: Corporate responsibility works better for corporations than public health

A new report just out from the Children’s Food Campaign of Sustain, a food advocacy group in the UK, says that its government’s Responsibility Deal with the food industry about marketing practices is good for food companies but not so effective for public health.

 

The report finds that the UK government’s Responsibility Deal is “likely to fail because industry commitments are weak, voluntary, and ignored by numerous big food companies.”

The UK Coalition Government launched its Public Health Responsibility Deal in March 2011. This covered five areas—food, alcohol, physical activity, health in the workplace, and behavior change.

The core of the Deal is voluntary partnership with industry.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley promised industry that the Deal would be “built on social responsibility, not state regulation.”   Instead, government would promote personal responsibility for health choices and voluntary agreements with companies.

Predictably, the report lists 33 national food companies that have failed to commit to one or more voluntary pledges on:

  • ‘out of home’ calorie labelling (including Costa, Pizza Express and Subway)
  • salt reduction (including Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Wimpy)
  • artificial trans fat removal (including Harvester, Wetherspoons and Sodexo)

It also lists 13 well known companies, including Birds Eye, Budgens, Domino’s Pizza and Nandos that failed to sign up to any health pledges at all.

The campaign concludes: “food pledges are underwhelming.”

So much for voluntary partnerships and alliances.  Nobody should be surprised.

 

Jun 20 2011

More fun with cause marketing

My post last week about KFC, Pepsi, and cause marketing elicited a lively dicussion along with some further examples.

Ken Leebow of “Feed Your Head” sent this one along with a comment: “Don’t pollute the Earth, but your body: Go for it!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cara Wilking of the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) sent this one: Give blood, eat a Whopper.  Cara, by the way, has done her own piece on why organizations that care about health should avoid partnerships with soft drink companies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Lisa Young sent a note about Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of continuing professional education credits for dietitians, for a course about bone health.  On that same site, if you pledge to LivePositively.com, Coke’s Sprite Zero will donate $1 to the American Cancer Society.

For those of you who insist that these kinds of partnerships raise money for Good Causes, please consider whether soft drinks are good for bone health or whether artificial sweeteners are good for cancer prevention.  The answers may not be in, but the questions are worth asking.

Cause marketing, I submit, is much more about the marketing than it is about the cause.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/smack/chi-110604-smack-graphic,0,5581063.graphicCar
Jun 16 2011

The latest in cause marketing: KFC, Pepsi, and diabetes

I collect things like this—examples of food company marketing alliances with health and nutrition organizations that by all rights should be advising their members and clients not to eat much of the company’s products.  This one promotes mega-size Pepsi to raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This particular treasure comes from a blogger, Joe Tower, who runs a business—“Selfish Giving”—that helps companies do cause marketing.  This one crosses a line, even for him:

I’ve said this before: I don’t have a problem with nonprofits and fast-serve chains doing cause marketing. What I do have a problem with is when fast serve chains like KFC encourage consumers to buy products that directly contribute to the health conditions – in this case diabetes – they are supposedly trying to prevent by partnering with the cause in the first place….What was JDRF thinking? I’m not sure, but I’m calling them today to see if I can find out!

Here are excerpts from the response from JDRF:

We appreciate your concerns and your questions about the banner promoting a JDRF fundraising activity at KFC. Please understand that the fundraiser in question is a local initiative in Utah involving a single KFC franchise owner with a personal type 1 diabetes connection.That said, JDRF values its supporters, both individual and corporate, and their efforts to raise funds to support research aimed at improving lives and curing type 1 diabetes. JDRF carefully reviews national partnership opportunities to ensure that they are appropriate prior to joining corporate campaigns to raise funds.

Regarding this particular promotion, we understand that one of the criticisms has been the association with a sugary product, which many have associated with contributing to diabetes. It’s important to note that JDRF supports research for type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that results when the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, therefore requiring a child or adult with the disease to depend on insulin treatment for the rest of their lives. It is a common misconception that type 1 diabetes is caused by obesity or eating too much junk food or sweets.

Finally, JDRF does not endorse any particular products, nor any particular diet. People with type 1 diabetes should work with their healthcare team to determine a diet that works best for them. JDRF fully supports people living with type 1 diabetes engaging in healthy eating habits and lifestyles.

–Gary Feit, National Manager, External Communications, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

As I find myself saying again and again, you cannot make this stuff up.   And how does Pepsi, now promoting itself as a wellness company, feel about this?

[Thanks to David Schliefer for sending]

Update June 17: I hear rumors attributed to a Pepsi V.P. that the promotion is “no longer running.”

Apr 21 2011

More on Oxfam’s anti-poverty partnership with Coca-Cola

Among the many thoughtful comments on yesterday’s post is one from the Director of Oxfam America’s Private Sector Department, Chris Jochnick, who writes that I did not “quite capture the scope and intent of this project.”

As part of our work, Oxfam has a responsibility to engage with global corporations, through both collaboration and campaigns, in order to have constructive dialog on their business practices.

….Throughout the work, Oxfam has maintained complete independence including the ability to undertake advocacy against either company if the situation warranted. The Coca-Cola Company and Oxfam America shared the costs of the collaboration roughly in the proportion of 2:1, with The Coca-Cola Company contributing two-thirds of the costs (US $400,000) and Oxfam America contributing one-third of the costs in kind including staff time.

Unrelated to the study, The Coca-Cola Company made an earlier donation of $2,500,000 to Oxfam between 2008-2010 for humanitarian work in Sudan, with an emphasis on work related to water, sanitation and hygiene.

….Our independent voice keeps Oxfam’s approach to private sector collaborations dynamic and honest.

Let me add a bit more about what I think is wrong with this picture.

The goal of Coca-Cola is to sell more Coca-Cola.  The goal of Oxfam is to address world poverty.  I’m having trouble understanding how these goals could be mutually compatible.

Coke sales in the United States are flagging.  Last year, three quarters of Coke’s revenue derived from sales outside of North America in emerging economies where rates of obesity are increasing rapidly.

Sugary beverages like Coke are increasingly associated with obesity and its health consequences, problems now rampant in developing economies.

In the past year, Coke has embarked on an aggressive campaign of contributions to potentially critical groups such as the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Save the Children, and now Oxfam.

These groups are now highly unlikely to advise their constituents to cut down on sugary sodas.  If nothing else, sponsorship buys silence.

Oxfam may have done the work of its Poverty Footprint Report without company interference.  It is what is not in the report that is so much in Coke’s interest.

For just under $3 million, Coke has purchased an endorsement from Oxfam of its “anti-poverty” practices and silence on the role of sugary drinks in obesity.  This kind of public relations is well worth the price.

What does Oxfam get in this bargain?  The money, of course, but at the cost of serious questions about the credibility of its report and its independence.  Perhaps these are tolerable, but what about loss of respect?

I score this as a win for Coca-Cola.

 

 

 

Apr 20 2011

The latest oxymoron: Oxfam helps Coca-Cola reduce poverty

I keep arguing that partnerships and alliances with food corporations put agriculture, food, nutrition, and public health advocacy groups in deep conflict of interest.

The latest example is Oxfam America’s partnership with Coca-Cola and bottler SAB Miller to evaluate the effectiveness of these corporations in reducing poverty (again, you can’t make these things up):

Despite the challenges involved, The Coca-Cola Company and SABMiller have each made ambitious and laudable commitments to labor rights, human rights, water, gender, and sustainability. However, there is little accountability to such commitments without the informed engagement of affected groups. By looking across all relevant issues (no cherry-picking) with an organization like Oxfam America and reporting out to stakeholders, these companies have opened themselves to heightened public scrutiny and hopefully increased accountability.

Hopefully, indeed.

The Oxfam Poverty Footprint Report describes the work Coca-Cola and SAB Miller are doing in Zambia and El Salvador to empower and promote sustainability.  It highlights Coca-Cola’s sustainability initiatives.

It does include some telling recommendations for follow-up.  For example:

  • Engage sugar farmers and producers to improve safety and health of sugarcane harvesters.
  • Investigate why independent truck drivers in Zambia work more than eight hours per day and discuss with drivers potential mechanisms to ensure safe driving.
  • Ensure The Coca-Cola Company’s global Advertising and Marketing to Children Policies are being effectively and consistently implemented at a regional level.

You have to read between the lines to see what this report really says.

And what about health, obesity, or the shocking increase in childhood tooth decay that is occurring in Latin America these days as a result of the influx of sugary drinks?  Not a word.

Why is Oxfam America helping Coca-Cola to market its products in Latin America and Africa?  I can only guess that Coca-Cola’s grant to Oxfam must have been substantial.

And thanks to Kelly Moltzen for sending the links.

 

Apr 15 2011

Why partnerships with food companies don’t work

Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, a Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health (whom I do not know), has been mailing me copies of his recent blog posts on partnerships between food corporations and health organizations, particularly the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) (see my previous posts), and the American Dietetic Association (ADA) (see my previous posts on this one too).

Dr. Siegel’s current post discusses two reasons why these partnerships do more for the food companies than they do for the organizations:

1. Coca-Cola and other Big Food companies are using these partnerships to enhance their corporate image, and therefore, their bottom line: sales of unhealthy products that are contributing towards the nation’s obesity epidemic.

In its 2010 annual report, Coca-Cola writes: “…researchers, health advocates and dietary guidelines are encouraging consumers to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, including those sweetened with HFCS or other nutritive sweeteners. Increasing public concern about these issues…may reduce demand for our beverages, which could affect our profitability.”

…Pepsico, in its 2010 annual report, also makes clear the connection between the company’s public image and its bottom line: “Damage to our reputation or loss of consumer confidence in our products for any of these or other reasons could result in decreased demand for our products and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations, as well as require additional resources to rebuild our reputation.”

2. The American Dietetic Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Family Physicians are supporting companies that oppose virtually every state-specific public health policy related to improvement of school nutrition, reduction of junk food and soda consumption, and environmental health and safety.

…Through its contributions to the Grocers Manufacturers Association (GMA), Coca-Cola is opposing any and all taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (soft drinks), opposing the removal of BPA from bottles containing liquids consumed by infants, opposing legislation to simply require the disclosure of product ingredients, opposing taxes on candy, opposing bottle bills, opposing all restrictions on BPA-containing packaging, opposing standards for food processing, and opposing school nutrition standards.

…That the AAP, AAFP, and ADA have fallen for Coca-Cola’s tricks is one possibility. The other, which I find more likely, is that they have been bought off. In other words, that the receipt of large amounts of money has caused them to look the other way. It’s amazing what a little financial support will do. And of course, this is precisely the reason why companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsico include the sponsorship of public health organizations in their marketing plans.

I’m just back from the American Society of Nutrition meetings in Washington, DC, where the daily newsletter put out by the society included full-page advertisements from Coca-Cola, the beef industry, and the Corn Refiners Association (see yesterday’s post).  And then there is the astonishing example of Coca-Cola’s $10 million gift to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to head off a potential city soda tax.

It is completely understandable why food and beverage companies would want to buy silence from health professionals.  It is much less understandable why health organizations would risk their credibility to accept such funding.  Professor Siegel’s analyses of these issues are worth close attention.