Large Food Corps Analyzed In New Series
June 21, 2012

Large Food Corps Analyzed In New Series

Connie K. Ho for

In the past, the uphill battle was against Big Tobacco. These days, there´s been an increased fervor in the fight against “Big Food.” Recently, a new series on the effects of multinational food corporations was launched. In the project, a group of editors and guest editors explain how the multinational food and beverage industry has increased its impact on the global health agenda and impacted the obesity crisis; however, the companies have yet to be judged on their activities in the health arena.

The PLoS Medicine series focus on the theme of Big Food and studies the activities of the food and beverage industry in regards to health issues. The articles are a multi-disciplinary approach to discussing the role of health in Big Food. Big Food, as defined by the series, is described as the multinational food and beverage industry that has a large and concentrated market share.

The authors begin by illustrating the influence the multinational food corporations have in the world.

“Food, unlike tobacco and drugs, is necessary to live and is central to health and disease. And yet the big multinational food companies control what people everywhere eat, resulting in a stark and sick irony: one billion people on the planet are hungry while two billion are obese or overweight," argued the editors in an editorial.

The editorial also highlights how the food and beverage companies have made appearances in the global health arena, presenting at various conferences and United Nationals meetings. They even launched a rebranding campaign that paints them as “nutrition companies.” With these actions, these companies act as experts in areas like food production, malnutrition, obesity, and poverty. However, the editors of PLoS Medicine believe that the corporations are motivated by profit of selling food on a global basis rather than working with a corporate social mindset.

"Why does the global health community find this acceptable and how do these conflicts of interest play out?" questioned the editors in the piece on the role that the food industry has in regards to the health issues.

Besides the editorial, guest editors also contributed an accompany essay in the series on Big Food. The essay describes public health professionals as failing to act against Big Food. The editors include Marion Nestle from New York University and David Stuckler from Cambridge University.

“Public health professionals must recognize that Big Food's influence on global food systems is a problem, and do what is needed to reach a consensus about how to engage critically“¦ [they] must place as high a priority on nutrition as they do on HIV, infectious diseases, and other disease threats," stated Nestle and Stuckler in the series.

In concluding, the guest editors recommend that public health professionals look into initiatives that can better inform the public.

"They should support initiatives such as restrictions on marketing to children, better nutrition standards for school meals, and taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. The central aim of public health must be to bring into alignment Big Food's profit motives with public health goals. Without taking direct and concerted action to expose and regulate the vested interests of Big Food, epidemics of poverty, hunger, and obesity are likely to become more acute," wrote the guest editors in the essay.