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Food Giants Pressure World Health Organization to Downplay Junk
Food Hazards


WHO 'buried' report to please food industry

Sarah Boseley, health editor
Wednesday November 3, 2004

The Guardian

The World Health Organisation was yesterday accused of burying a report
recommending that curbs on junk food advertising be incorporated into
global food standards.

Activists say hiding the report, which also calls for tough limits on
sugar, salt and fat, comes after pressure from the food industry and its US

The report, commissioned from outside consultants, was completed in the
summer but has not seen the light of day. It recommends that the Codex
Alimentarius - the global food standards code set up by the WHO and Food
and Agriculture Organisation - should contain not just safety and quality
information, but nutritional guidance as well.

The code is not binding on governments, but is influential with those who
set their own standards, like the UK, and has particular significance for
developing countries that do not.

The report, of which the Guardian has a copy, recommends sweeping changes
to the code as part of the fight against the global obesity epidemic. It
was commissioned during the tussle over the WHO's global strategy on diet,
physical activity and health, which proposed limits on the consumption of
fats, sugars and salt and was fiercely opposed by some in the food
industry. The strategy was finally passed by the World Health Assembly in

Officials at the WHO say the report was not intended to be published. But
Bruce Silverglade, of the US-based Centre for Science in the Public
Interest, believes that the report, Food Standardisation to Support the
Reduction of Chronic Diseases, may have been buried as part of a deal to
get the strategy approved by those who did not want limits on fat, sugar
and salt in the diet.

"It appears that its suppression may have been a quid pro quo for the
support of the US government and others who had initially opposed adoption
of the WHO's anti-obesity strategy," he said. "The document is a key
element in the implementation of the WHO's global strategy - it gives it
teeth. The food industry would not want to see this document come to light.
Developing countries are directly influenced [by the code] and they provide
the food industry with its biggest emerging markets."

The report says that the Codex Alimentarius Commission should support the
global strategy in the fight against obesity-related diseases by
formulating guidelines on the labelling, presentation and promotion of food
to the consumer. "These guidelines and codes of practices should address
the promotion of foods directed at children, food promotion activities in
schools, activities of the food industry, the catering organisations and
the retail sector," it says.

It says that the Codex can and should recommend foods with low energy
density - such as unsaturated rather than saturated fats and the
substitution of sugars by non-nutritive sweeteners. It also suggests that
limits be imposed on salt.

The global strategy that was agreed in May calls on governments to take
measures to curb unhealthy eating, promote exercise and look at food
labelling and advertising. But governments like the US which have a strong
sugar industry maintained that they should not have to restrict trade in
the process and that they could set their own national nutritional

Robert Beaglehole, head of the department of chronic disease prevention and
health promotion at the WHO, said that negotiating changes to the Codex
would be a long and difficult process. "It is not a huge priority." He said
there was no reason why the report had not been published. "There have been
so many things going on. I don't think there's a conspiracy," he said.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004