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Civil Society Organizations Raise Concern Over India’s Possibility Of Joining SUN Movement

The Vice Chairman

Niti Aayog

Government of India

New Delhi

Civil society organizations have expressed concern over the possibility of India becoming a `SUN Country’ by joining the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement.

In a memorandum submitted to the Vice Chairman of Niti Aayog, Secretaries to the Government of India and State Health Secretaries, the civil society has raised concerns regarding the visit of the global coordinator of SUN movement to India to `lobby’ for India joining the movement and its SUN Business Network (SBN).

If a country becomes a member of SUN, it is labeled as a “SUN country”. According to its roadmap, by 2020, all SUN countries will “Have a multi-stakeholder partnership for coordination at national level’’ and “have aligned policy, legislation and regulation, in support of nutrition”. As a key strategy, SUN encourages to set-up Multi -stakeholder platforms and SBN is identified stakeholder. SBN is convened by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and World Food Program (WFP), the memorandum has said.

Pointing out that majority of the SBN Members are in food businesses promoting ready-to-use foods, nutrition supplements, ingredients for formulas and highly processed products and snacks, the memorandum said SUN had failed to address the double burden of malnutrition, both under and over-nutrition. These members include Pepsi, Cargill, Nutriset, Britannia, Unilever, Edesia, General Mills, Glaxo SKB, Mars, Indofood, Nutrifood, DSM, Amul, and Valid Nutrition.

Moreover, and of deep concern, is that SUN, while claiming to support governments in taking the lead in policy setting, in reality facilitates the entry of businesses into the policy space. SUN does this by using an incorrect conflict of interest (CoI) concept– that calls on its members to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘predictable and mutually accountable, it said. `’We cannot see how the Government of India – or any other government claiming to uphold democratic principles – can allow themselves to be accountable to transnational corporations or philanthropic foundations rather than their citizens.  Nor can we see how effective nutrition and public health policies can be adopted if consensus must first be reached with transnational food corporations.’’   

The SUN approach results in its members sidelining the sustainable strategies for ‘prevention’ that IBFAN and other health NGOs focus on  – and instead promote ready to use foods and supplements as a solution for treatment of undernutrition. SUN Business Network members understand prevention only through ‘magic bullet’ and market-led approaches – ‘buy this product to prevent this micronutrient deficiency. Such approaches mislead and undermine local, bio-diverse and sustainable food cultures. Indian data for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) children suggests that there little difference between commercial ready to use foods or home augmented foods to treat SAM, the memorandum said.

Also, there are negligible efforts to address obesity and related Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs including diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome), which are assuming epidemic proportions. Paradoxically, an important contributor of this burden is the promotion and consumption of highly -processed foods, especially those with high sugar, salt and fat content.  ``The companies producing and promoting such products are core members of SBN, who benefit financially from their association with SUN, camouflaging their marketing strategies as promotion of public nutrition. In the long term, this can cause irreparable financial damage to Indian economy because of inherent cost of treatment and rehabilitation from NCDs and suppression of local food industry,’’ the memorandum added.

SBN’s involvement at policy making will corrode India’s ability to protect its public health policy setting space from commercial influence.  We should be zealously guarding our own food sovereignty and economic interests. One of the reasons big food players would like to come to India is because the markets in the west are saturated and growth of processed food is projected in lower middle-income countries, the civil society members said.

Resonating these concerns, recently Brazil categorically refused to become a “SUN country”. India should question if SUN is a global Movement, then why SUN member countries are only aid recipients and does not have the donor countries join the Movement as members, the members said while welcoming the Niti Aayog’s stated health agenda aiming to shift the focus to prevention instead of treatment. ``With this principle in mind, we make a strong plea that our country or individual States should not join ‘SUN’ even as it intensifies its efforts to rope in more countries.’’

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