We all know that corporations are in business to make money, but they also attempt to do so by responding to public needs – and public pressure. So far, at least one United Nations food expert doesn’t think corporations that rely on profits from selling junk foods with low- or no nutritional value are not being pressured enough to clean up their act. And she thinks his agency ought to step in.
The Associated Press reports that the expert, Hilal Elver, the UN’s special representative on the right to food, said recently that rising industrialized food production combined with liberal trade laws and other trappings of globalization were combining to allow Big Food to deliver cheap, nutrient-poor foods to the market.
The choice is forcing the world’s poor to choose between what is best for them economically and what is best for them from a nutritional standpoint, effectively violating their right to decent food.
Nearly half of all people don’t get enough proper nutrition daily
“Within the human rights framework, states are obliged to ensure effective measures to regulate the food industry, ensure that nutrition policymaking spaces are free from private sector influence and implement comprehensive policies that combat malnutrition in all its forms,” she said.
She further stated that countries ought to be going beyond just making sure that their citizens had access to the minimum requirements needed for their survival by ensuring they have ready access to foods that contain adequate nutrition, unlike junk foods and fast foods. But, she noted, the international community is not meeting globally agreed-upon standards and target goals that seek to wipe out all forms of malnutrition.
Elver noted that currently about 800 million people were living in hunger around the world, but more than 2 billion suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies, while an additional 600 million people are considered to be medically obese. That means about half of the world could be judged to not have access to adequate food.
She noted that she was concerned in particular about aggressive marketing campaigns by big corporations that promote their junk food products to children and those in developing countries. She would like to see governments move away from industrialized food operations and instead embrace more sustainable systems that are based on proper ecological balance.
“The first step is to recognize nutrition as an essential component of the human right to adequate food, reinforced by monitoring accountability and transparency,” Elver said.
Consumer pressure always works better than a big government ‘solution’
As noble as Elver’s compassion, relying on governments to solve this problem is, frankly, misguided. While private industry is responsible for much of the junk food marketing, regulations aren’t necessarily the answer. In fact, forcing companies to self-censor or to take a hit financially by not marketing their own products is counterproductive economically and doesn’t really solve the problem, per se.
What tends to work better is public pressure put on companies to voluntarily decide to change what they manufacture and sell. Big food manufacturers want to continue to maximize profits, and they will do so by responding to what the public wants. In some ways, this is already happening.
With sites like ours and others focusing on the major nutritional and health benefits of organic food, for instance, sales of organic, GMO-free foods and superfoods packed with nutrition are skyrocketing as well. In fact, the value of the U.S. organic market exceeded $35 billion for the first time in 2013, a double-digit jump from the previous year.
In another example, in April the Seattle Times reported that retail chain Costco was getting creative in a bid to meet shoppers’ increasing needs and desires for all foods organic. In particular, the retailer began working for farmers to help them acquire land and equipment, to produce organic foods.
These efforts always work better and produce longer-lasting results than government regulations.