Protecting Policy Space for Public Health Nutrition in an Era of International Investment agreements/Proteger L'espace Politique En Matiere De Nutrition En Sante Publique Dans L'ere Des Accords Internationaux d'investissement/La Proteccion De Un Espacio Politico Para la Nutricion En la Salud Publica En la Era De Los Acuerdos Internacionales De Inversiones

By Thow, Anne Marie; McGrady, Benn | Bulletin of the World Health Organization, February 2014 | Go to article overview

Protecting Policy Space for Public Health Nutrition in an Era of International Investment agreements/Proteger L'espace Politique En Matiere De Nutrition En Sante Publique Dans L'ere Des Accords Internationaux d'investissement/La Proteccion De Un Espacio Politico Para la Nutricion En la Salud Publica En la Era De Los Acuerdos Internacionales De Inversiones


Thow, Anne Marie, McGrady, Benn, Bulletin of the World Health Organization


Introduction

In 2010, the tobacco multinational Philip Morris brought a claim against Uruguay under an international investment agreement (IIA) between that country and Switzerland. The following year, the company brought a claim against Australia under an IIA between that country and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in China. These claims challenge tobacco packaging and labelling policies on several grounds, among them that large graphic health warnings and so-called "plain packaging" are arbitrary and unreasonable measures, expropriate trademarks and undermine good will indirectly. (1,2) Challenges to public health policies are relatively rare under IIAs. However, Philip Morris' claims illustrate how the autonomy of states to engage in product regulation to protect and promote public health--outside the sphere of tobacco control--can be challenged in the context of an IIA. This paper addresses important questions about domestic regulatory autonomy and explores the implications of investment law for public health nutrition policies designed to prevent diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and curb their enormous social and economic costs) It highlights the neglected role of public health policy-makers in national decisions pertaining to investment and investor protection and examines ways to protect policy space for public health nutrition.

Foreign direct investment and nutrition regulation

As the global epidemic of diet-related NCDs has escalated, it has become increasingly clear that healthy eating initiatives based on public education need to be supported by policies to improve the food environment. (3,4) The current "obesogenic" environment, in which unhealthful foods are heavily marketed, easily available and often the cheapest options, makes it difficult for consumers to make healthy choices in response to information and education. A growing global consensus is forming around the need for governments to implement public health nutrition regulation in the form of food taxes and subsidies, informative product labelling, marketing restrictions and urban planning initiatives targeting processed and pre-prepared (e.g. "fast") foods high in salt, sugar, saturated fats and trans fats. (3-7)

The above-mentioned interventions apply to the end products of complex food supply chains, any stage of which is usually open to investment by international companies (Fig. 1). Foreign direct investment (FDI) in the entire food supply chain has increased rapidly during the past 20 years. Between 1990 and 2009, FDI in the food, beverage and tobacco sectors of developed countries increased 11-fold; investment in these sectors in developing economies increased fourfold (8) and is projected to continue to rise. (9)

FDI in the food sector has occurred primarily in the processed food and beverage industries and in retail outlets, such as supermarkets and convenience food stores, selling products associated with the nutrition transition--i.e. products low in cereal and fibre and high in sugars, salt and saturated and trans fats. (10,11) These foods are the main targets of global recommendations to reduce consumption. Seven of the top 100 transnational corporations--with combined foreign sales in excess of 400 billion United States dollars (US$) in 2010--are involved in the production and retail sale of processed foods. (12) The beverage sector accounts for most of the food-related FDI originating in the United States of America (13) and the processed food industry is one of the top 10 sectors attracting FDI in India. (14) Of the world's top 15 franchises, seven have strong interests in highly processed and "fast" foods. (12) In 2011 the combined sales of the top global food service outlets was around US$ 230 billion dollars. (15) Thus, the key targets of public health nutrition interventions are the objects of extensive --and growing--investment activity.

Concerns have also been raised that the substantial recent growth in FDI in agriculture, with direct foreign ownership of agricultural land being a common feature, (16) could limit government influence over the modes of production of healthful foods. …

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Protecting Policy Space for Public Health Nutrition in an Era of International Investment agreements/Proteger L'espace Politique En Matiere De Nutrition En Sante Publique Dans L'ere Des Accords Internationaux d'investissement/La Proteccion De Un Espacio Politico Para la Nutricion En la Salud Publica En la Era De Los Acuerdos Internacionales De Inversiones
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