World Health Assembly Resolution tackles conflicts of interest


Press release 26 May 2012

Health campaigners are welcoming a new resolution passed at the 65th World Health Assembly which calls on governments to strengthen controls on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and to establish 'adequate mechanisms' to deal with conflicts of interest.

The Resolution will be especially important in relation to the new partnerships and "multi-stakeholder" arrangements that are springing up to tackle poor nutrition - many of which are pushing fortified processed baby foods and fuelling the multi-billion 'business of malnutrition.'  

Proposed by Canada, UK, Swaziland and Mexico, the Resolution ushered in WHO's Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal, infant and young child nutrition, which emphasises the importance of breastfeeding and sound infant and young child nutrition in child survival.


An initial strong Resolution proposed by Swaziland and Uganda to protect infant health, prompted several days of behind the scenes wrangling, where Canada and the US called for the deletion of everything except a single line adopting the Implementation Plan.


During the Assembly debates several Member States expressed concerns about the plan's over-emphasis on fortified processed foods and supplements, which may not be necessary and can also undermine support for and attention to breastfeeding and nutritious, affordable, culturally appropriate and sustainable local foods.  Indeed, instead of improving child health, many feared that the market-led approaches to "prevent" malnutrition championed by public-private-partnerships, could actually worsen the situation and increase further the double burden of malnutrition -  both under and over nutrition. In response to the particular concerns of Finland regarding the overemphasis on fortified supplements and other issues, the tables contained in the Action Plan were removed.   

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), which works with over 600 companies,  including Danone (the world's second largest baby food company and violator of the World Health Assembly baby food marketing requirements), PepsiCo, Mars and Kraft,  is one such body that has been lobbying to use health and nutrition claims to promote baby foods. Another initiative called, Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) was wholeheartedly supported in the speech by the International Special Dietary Industries (ISDI). SUN has been encouraging developing countries to partner with companies to address malnutrition. However, it has yet to formulate its own conflict of interest safeguards.  

In calling  for Conflict of Interest safeguards at all levels and mandating WHO "to provide clarification and guidance on the inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children"  the Resolution could do much to clean up these initiatives and ensure that they work truly in the interests of child health.

Welcoming the Resolution,  Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO Nutrition, stressed the importance of having an agreement on a common vision on targets which can be measured, and where an accountability framework can be developed.

For online version with links see:

CLICK Here for pdf of the text of Resolution as passed with some of the amendments highlighted. The final version will appear on the WHO website soon.