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Big Food indicted: Accused of using COVID-19 pandemic as cover to promote unhealthy products

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Posted: Tuesday, November 17, 2020. 2:57 pm CST.

 

By Aaron Humes: A new report by the Global Health Advocacy Incubator [GHAI], supported by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), details how major producers in the food and beverage industry have been using the COVID-19 pandemic as cover to promote their ultra-processed foods to especially vulnerable populations.

 

Food and beverage corporations – such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nestlé, and PepsiCo are accused of taking advantage of the lack of food regulations around the world, publicly portraying themselves as do-gooders while directly and indirectly influencing policy and putting disadvantaged people at even greater risk. They promoted their unhealthy products as exactly the opposite, risking lives for profit.

 

More than 280 examples were collected from 18 countries between March and June, 2020, including the following: making donations as “solidarity actions,” including baby formula against the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes; falsely promoting their products as essential and safe despite being neither; funding online educational platforms but added junk food advertising and marketing; in Mexico, attempting to delay implementing a new front-of-package warning label law; and in general played on customers’ emotions, associating their products with the “good times” before COVID-19.

 

In the Caribbean, according to the HCC, Big Food companies were caught advertising energy drinks as cold remedies and high-sugar drinks as immune-boosters; and using fast-food and sugary beverage-branded online teaching materials targeting children, said Maisha Hutton, HCC Executive Director.

 

“Multiple major fast food chains across the Caribbean are leveraging the pandemic to build brand visibility, goodwill and loyalty by donating thousands of packages of ultra-processed foods to children, the elderly and health care workers despite widespread knowledge that obesity and NCDs exacerbate COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. This is an issue of rights and in this instance many of these actors are preying on the most vulnerable in a time of unique need.”

 

“This is a wake-up call for governments to implement evidence-based public policies designed to create healthier food environments and to protect the right to adequate nutritious food,” added Sir Trevor Hassell, President of the HCC. “Such policies will help consumers make healthier nutritional choices during vulnerable times like these. The bottom line is, governments must prioritize public health above private interests and profits especially during times of crisis when vulnerabilities are exacerbated and the poor and marginalized are targeted. Safeguarding public health is an even more urgent priority if we are to ensure equity and protect the health and human rights of CARICOM citizens and rebuild a stronger and more resilient Caribbean.”

 

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