In response to growing pressure from eaters who want healthier food, governments that want to take action to protect public health and reduce the costs of diet-related diseases, and competitive markets that jeopardize profits, global big food companies have launched a multi-pronged campaign to protect their interests. One element of this campaign is to use nutrition science to justify its actions, a process that some have called “nutritionism”. Nutritionism provides a halo for corporations, legitimizes existing and growing markets for highly processed foods, and helps to preempt and deter direct government regulation. Three key strategies food companies use to practice nutritionism are fortification, reformulation, and functionalization. In a talk at the City University of New York School of Public Health entitled “Nutritionism, Big Food and the Corporate Capture of Nutrition”, Gyorgy Scrinis, Senior Lecturer in Food Politics and Policy at the University of Melbourne, analyzed how corporations use nutrition and nutritonism to advance their business interests. Gyorgy is also the author of Nutritonism The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice (Columbia University Press, 2013.) View the presentation.
Read a related article: Scinis, G. Reformulation, fortification and functionalization: Big Food corporations’ nutritional engineering and marketing strategies, The Journal of Peasant Studies 2016; 43 (1):17-37.
By Nicholas Freudenberg for the Symposium of the Geneesmiddelenbulletin on June 30th 2016 in Leiden ’Science and Economy’. It was also translated and published in the Bulletin.
In the last two decades, the public health community has generally agreed that the tobacco industry has no role in setting health policy or sponsoring research on tobacco. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control bans industry participation in policy deliberations on Tobacco, most major global public health organizations and national health departments have sharply limited their interactions with representatives of the tobacco industry, and many universities and some journals no longer accept or publish research supported by the tobacco industry.
However, no such agreement has been reached on the appropriate role for corporations and trade associations in other sectors such as pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, and alcohol. Some health and business analysts emphasize that the different roles that the products of the tobacco, medicines, food and alcohol industries play in patterns of health and disease make any judgments inappropriate and misguided, especially in the case of the drug industry. “Such comparisons (between the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries) are not just absurd, they are irresponsible as they contribute to patients not taking prescribed medicines that can clearly benefit them”, wrote one former drug industry executive. Read more