A leaked mail from the International Food and Beverages Alliance (IFBA) has revealed the hectic lobbying by some of the world's largest food and beverage companies to influence the framing of rules on the World Health Organisation's (WHO) engagement with the private sector, reported TOI.
The mail also revealed how the companies like Nestle, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Unilever and McDonald’s amongst others are being backed by the developed world including several countries of Western Europe, Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand and the US who seem to have pledged to not accept any framework which excludes the food and beverage industry.
Over 45 civil society organisations from across the world signed a public statement calling upon delegates to the ongoing World Health Assembly to defend the integrity, independence and democratic accountability of the WHO. The statement said that the mail illustrated the lengths that the corporations will go to ensure that the 'framework for engagement' increases their access to policy-making in the agency and the degree to which member states can be 'persuaded' to support them.
The mail referred to alliance representatives having several "outreach meetings" on the WHO Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA) with the missions of the US, UK, Canada and Latvia (which currently holds the European Union presidency) in Geneva. The WHO secretariat has been working on FENSA in the context of its reform process.
In the mail, Rocco Renaldi, Secretary General of IFBA thanked the Food and Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC), the largest industry association in Canada representing the food and consumer products industry and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) a US based trade association of the food industry for building on outreach in capitals to drive home "the red lines in terms of what we would consider an acceptable outcome and argued for adoption of a workable framework based on December 2014 version.
The mail proudly announces that following a meeting of the WEOG group (Western Europe, Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand and the US) last week, there was "full alignment among these countries on a position that is essentially equivalent to ours".
"Importantly, the WEOG objective is to negotiate an agreement - i.e. to actively aim for adoption of a Framework (as opposed to not caring too much if it fails), though not all costs, because there is a common perception that the absence of a Framework is hampering WHO effectiveness. So expect compromises, but not on the red lines and particularly on para 44, with regard to which WEOG will not accept any document that excludes the food and beverage industry from the Framework," stated the mail.
The mail went on to state: "The US' forecast is that it will be possible to make sufficient progress for a new draft Framework to be developed in the run up to WHA and to be finalized via drafting groups during the WHA. But this is only one forecast and much will depend on the Chair's (Argentina) ability and willingness to reach an agreement."
According to the mail, "helpful outreach" was also conducted by IFBA members, associates and partner organisations in a number of capitals which included several emerging economies and developing countries in Africa and the Asia Pacific. In Brazil's proposal on the draft framework it had taken a clear stance against international business associations and philanthropic foundations being granted 'official relations' status with the WHO and had instead suggested that they be given only observer status. From the IFBA email, it appears that there is targeted effort by the alliance to make Brazil change its stance.
While many of the countries were identified by IFBA as being "in favour of our positions" some were found amenable to highlighting how incongruent it would be to "exclude private sector organisations from official relations with WHO".