In an index released on March 13, industry organisations have ranked companies Danone, Unilever and Nestle as top performers on both the obesity and under-nutrition rankings, in spite of their dubious reputations.
The Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) was developed to rank global and regional food and beverage manufacturers based on their practices for increasing access to nutritious products.
Slamming the rankings, critics say the initiative is nothing but a whitewash and an attempt to promote business houses with dubious records.
The ATNI has been sponsored by Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. The three-year initiative was developed by GAIN's Innovative Finance Programme.
“GAIN is a public-private entity which claims to work to tackle malnutrition, and its work seems to focus on opening up markets for its 600 partner companies,”says Arun Gupta, co-chair of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). GAIN's partner companies include Danone, the world’s second largest baby food company, Mars, PepsiCo and Coca Cola.
The report scores 25 of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers on the basis of their written policies and statements, rather than on independent monitoring of their actions on the ground, says Gupta. He adds it is not surprising to find the report rewards those with the biggest P R budgets, with the highest scores going to Danone, Unilever, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Kraft.
Nestle and Danone are being criticised for promoting high fat, salt and sugar that contribute to the global epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. They are also the world's largest baby food companies. Both the companies violate the resolutions by the World Health Assembly for baby food, threatening child survival and health, a fact that is acknowledged by the ATNI.
Patti Rundall, co-chair, IBFAN, said, "We all want companies to improve their practices and stop harming health. But this is not the way to encourage them to change. The ATNI report...diverts our attention away from what is so urgently needed - strong legislation with independent monitoring of what is actually happening on the ground.”