Just in advance of the United Nations High Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Disease, a coalition comprising more than 140 nongovernmental and public health organizations has called on the UN to restructure the way in which the food and beverage industry has been involved in the policy negotiations.
The Conflicts of Interest Coalition (COIC) describes itself as a group of “civil society organizations united by the common objective of safeguarding public health policy-making against commercial conflicts of interest through the development of a Code of Conduct and Ethical Framework for interactions with the private sector.”
The COIC sent a Statement of Concern to the President of the United Nations General Assembly and the UN summit’s facilitators, decrying the lack of clarity regarding the role of the private sector in public policy-making in relation to the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
“Since the major causes of preventable death are driven by diseases related to tobacco, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and alcohol drinking, we are concerned that many of the proposals to address NCDs call for ‘partnerships’ in these areas with no clarification of what this actually means. Public-private partnerships in these areas can counteract efforts to regulate harmful marketing practices,” the COIC wrote.
Calling industries “both part of the NCD problem and the solution,” the COIC believes industry should be involved in the implementation of policy but not its development. To that end, the group’s Statement offered two proposals:
First, a change in the nomenclature of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to distinguish between those that are industry-supported and those that are strictly civil society: “Business-interest-not-for profit organizations (BINGOs) and public interest nongovernmental organizations (PINGOs).
Second, a “code of conduct” that sets out a clear framework for interaction with the food and beverage industry and managing conflicts of interest, differentiating between policy development and implementation.
“We ask for the UN to consider our comments and take them into account for the UN High Level Meeting in September,” the COIC wrote in the Statement, a version of which was published Sept. 16 online in The Lancet.
Indeed, food industry lobbying is believed to have played a role in the removal of specific targets and indicators for reductions in salts, sugars, and saturated fats from earlier versions of the Political Declaration that will be voted on at the UN High-Level meeting, but it is probably too late to change that document since the vote is expected to take place Monday morning, according to Ann Keeling, chair of the Noncommunicable Disease Alliance (NCDA), the leading NGO that pushed for the Summit.
However, she told me in an email, there will be time to address the conflict of interest issue in 2012, when the UN will be making decisions on both the establishment of partnerships as well as targets and indicators.
“The view of the NCDA is that the private sector, subject to ethical frameworks on conflict of interest, must be part of the solution, especially in implementation. We believe there should be a ‘triple partnership’ going forward – public/private/people with NGOs being the people and with far greater involvement from global to community level of people with NCDs.”
–Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)