Danone no longer on the Board of Gain
Press release 29 May 2009
The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) welcomed an important concession from the controversial Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) initiative as this week Danone – the 2nd biggest baby food manufacturer and the owner of NUMICO, Nutricia, Milupa and Cow & Gate – has been removed from the list of Board members. GAIN is a public-private partnership which promotes processed, ready-to-eat foods – fortified drinks and biscuits for the developing world. With Danone already on its Board, in 2008 GAIN launched a project on infant and young child nutrition so came firmly into the focus of the groups who have been working closely with WHO and UNICEF for decades to protect infant and young child feeding practices from undue commercial influence. Sub-optimal breastfeeding is responsible for 12% of deaths in children under 5 years and almost a quarter of these preventable deaths (23%) are due to lack of continued breastfeeding in the 6-24 month age group. (1)
Patti Rundall, OBE, Policy Director of Baby Milk Action, the IBFAN group in the UK, said:
“Danone is beginning to challenge Nestlé for the title of the world´s worst baby food company and its involvement in GAIN was a bizarre and very clear conflict of interests for an initiative claiming to improve health. However, even after this important concession of the removal of this company from the Board,
our concerns remain about the flawed concept of GAIN – which is to build markets for processed foods – a concept which holds huge risks for infant and young child survival. “
When Danone took control of NUMICO at the end of 2007, IBFAN asked it to bring the marketing practices
of its existing and new breastmilk substitute brands into line with World Health Assembly standards. IBFAN welcomed Danone´s early comment to conduct a ´root and branch review´ of practices, but a year later it appears that practices have in fact got worse as the Danone companies attempt to compete with global
leader Nestlé. (2)
In October 2008, 53 experts from 24 countries, attending a WABA meeting in Penang, Malaysia wrote to WHO and UNICEF calling on them to reconsider their partnership with GAIN because of the unacceptable conflict of interest of its business partners and the market-driven approach it epitomises. UNICEF does not in any case allow Code violating companies be involved with its programes and WHO also has guidelines governing its interactions with the private sector. IBFAN also approached GAIN directly about its policies and about the conflict of interest situation created by the presence of a baby food manufacturer on its Board. Illustrating the lack of transparency of GAIN´s setup, no mention of Danone’s interest in baby foods ever appeared on the GAIN website nor any mention that it is a systematic Code violator.
IBFAN opposes the creation of Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs) and UN Business Partnerships (UNBPs) – which have created satellite bodies that are neither democratically governed nor accountable – except to their funders – one being the Gates Foundation – which has a seat on the GAIN Board.
Dr. Arun Gupta, Member of the Prime Minister´s Council on India´s Nutrition Challenges and SE Asia Regional Coordinator for IBFAN, said:
“The global baby food market is worth more than $31 billion and is growing by 10% each year. (3) India and SE Asia are prime targets for the baby food industry and strong legislation to control unethical marketing is far from implemented every where – in this context the last thing we need is for companies to be given renewed power to influence policy makers to create markets for their products . It is all too easy for parents to believe packaging claims that processed foods will make babies healthier and stronger and to forget the risks. Fortified foods can be useful in carefully managed programmes, but its vital that these programmes are not influenced by the commercial agenda which is relentless.”
These problems, lack of public control and the market driven approach to development, remain as major concerns even with Danone leaving the Board of GAIN. There is no evidence that nutrition in the developing world will be improved through the building of markets for fortified foods, yet GAIN persists with this goal. (4) While fortification of selected foods may be useful in some cases, IBFAN fears that the philanthropic packaging of the GAIN message and the image transfer from GAIN’s UN partners alongside marketing messages will undermine breastfeeding and the use of indigenous, traditional and low-cost foods. Few governments in the developing world have the marketing controls in place that might ensure that the products are used appropriately and prevent the poor from being exploited.
A major debate, What has the Gates Foundation ever done for global health? took place at the Royal Society
of Arts on 28th May, chaired by Richard Horton of the Lancet. (5) While recognising the good things achieved by many of the projects funded by the Gates Foundation, the debate also questioned the lack of
accountability, the focus on high-tech solutions and the capitalist outlook of Gates funded projects – including GAIN – which has resulted in a complete change of the global health landscape, agenda and approach. The Gates Foundation has an endowment of $60 billion (almost a quarter of that of the entire UN system) and invariably has a
Meanwhile – in the Netherlands – the home of DANONE´s subsidiary NUMICO – health advocates have expressed outrage about a national government Senior High school examination for 18-year-olds in the Netherlands – which included a question which forms 25% of exam, based on on a Nutricia infant formula, Nenatal, complete with registered trademark signs. The question includes promotional language incidental
and irrelevant to the scientific content of the question. The appendix text file provided by the manufacturer contains the technical specifications of the product, and another piece of promotional language. (6)
Food companies seek links with UN bodies to boost their credibility. In November 2008 Nestlé produced a
report on food fortification as a way to tackle malnutrition and was later asked by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and WHO to remove their logos from the Nestle report and misleading references which implied the agencies´ endorsement of Nestlé´s practices.
A silent protest by public health experts and NGOs took place in Dehli in April, calling on GAIN to leave India.
The ongoing controversy over whether traditional cooked meals should be replaced with packaged food at Integrated Child Development Services centres, has alerted people to the risks of nutrition interventions
which ignore conflicts of interest and the need for an independently-funded evidence base and independent monitoring of the outcome. (7)
For more information contact:
Patti Rundall 07786 523493 Lida Lhotska +41 22 798 9164
Arun Gupta +91-11-27343606 , 42683059
Notes for editors
1- Black et al.Maternal and Child undernutrition. Global and regional exposures and health consequences.Lancet 2008; 371:243-60
2- See the codewatch section of the IBFAN website and the Baby Milk Action website for examples of Danone/NUMICO malpractice. Also see the UK monitoring reports on theBaby Feeding Law Group website.
3- Euromonitor 2008
4- Gain´s Executive Director, Mark Ameringen, expects everyone to work together to help companies establish these new markets: “[this] underscores the importance and need for development agencies and donors to continue to support business solutions and, thus, maximize productivity of the poor. GAIN can mobilize development partners from the public and non-profit sectors to create an enabling environment for companies interested in nutrition for the poor.”
Opportunities and challenges for the food industry in reaching the poor. M.Ameringen, B. Magarinos (Sen. Man. GAIN) M.Jarvis (World Bank), Business & Malnutrition: Development Outreach June 2008
5- What has the Gates Foundation done for global health? Debate at the Royal Society of Arts. 28th May 2009 For live audio recording see: http://www.thersa.org/events/?a=203772
Speakers :Matthew Bishop, business editor at The Economist and author of Philanthrocapatalism. Dave McCoy, author of a Lancet paper that looks at the grants given out by the Foundation over the past few years, Managing Editor of the Global Health Watch, an alternative world health report and a senior clinical associate in global health and development at the University College London. The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9675, Page 1577, 9 May 2009