Food Without Farms: Coke, Nestlé, Pepsi Among Ultra-Processed Food Giants Running Global Food Policy – Brenda Baletti, Ph.D. 7/2/24


Ultra-processed food producers are key actors in a complex global network of influence groups where they exert disproportionate power on global food policy and nutrition policy, according to a new paper in Agriculture and Human Values.

Calls for transforming global food governance from a corporate-dominated model to a “multi-stakeholder” model — led by organizations like the World Economic Forum (WEF) — has led to the proliferation of multi-stakeholder institution initiatives, partnerships, platforms and roundtables largely responsible for instituting new global “solutions” to agricultural problems.

These multi-stakeholder initiatives are based on a vision promoted by Klaus Schwab — that private corporations are key “stakeholders” that should play a leading role in sustainable development and be positioned as “trustees of society,” the authors wrote.

As a result, most prominent and powerful multi-stakeholder institutions are largely led by board members from ultra-processed food producers, retailers and business associations, the study found.

“Our results suggest that we now have a corporate-aligned, multi-stakeholder-led, global food governance system disproportionately organized by specific actors with common interests in advancing the ultra-processed food industry,” lead author Scott Slater from Australia’s Deakin University told The Defender.

“And, the key actors include executives from Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, WEF, Mars, DSM, Rabobank, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and Danone,” he added.

That means these companies and organizations have become the key drivers of global policies to address issues like malnutrition, food insecurity, biodiversity loss and climate change.

They play this role even though ultra-processed foods are tied to serious health issues including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health disorders, and environmental harms including biodiversity loss and the massive proliferation of plastics across the globe.

The results, Slater said, “raise important public health and governance concerns.”

He said that “multi-stakeholder institutions potentially hide the ultra-processed food industry’s harmful human and planetary health effects, in addition to providing industry executives a privileged ‘seat at the table’ in global food-governance decision-making spaces.”

To address the issue, Slater said, structural and regulatory changes are needed to ensure the interests of these powerful actors aren’t placed ahead of food system health and sustainability. This includes the “urgently needed global coordinated responses to address the harms of ultra-processed foods.”

‘Ultra-processed food executives are in the driver’s seat’

The researchers systematically analyzed the players behind major multi-stakeholder institutions influencing global food policy using data from websites, company reports, market research and academic and policy literature.

They analyzed 45 institutions working with multilateral institutions, including United Nations (U.N.) agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, to develop food policies globally.

They found that many organizations like the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance (founded by Danone, Mars Inc, Unilever and Nestlé), the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (founded by Danone, Nestlé and Unilever), the Consumer Goods Forum’s Forest Positive Coalition, and FReSH (Food Reform for Sustainability and Health initiative, founded by WBCSD) have boards and steering committees 100% led by manufacturers and retailers of ultra-processed foods.

Other major players have between half and two-thirds of their leadership positions held by manufacturers, retailers and other businesses associated with ultra-processed foods.

They also found that the ultra-processed food corporations that held the most power within the food policy institutions — like PepsiCo, Unilever, Nestlé and Coca-Cola— also held the most memberships in multi-stakeholder institutions focused on plastic pollution….

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