The entire nation is abuzz with the concept of “Self Reliant India”, the Prime Minister of India just learned from the Coronavirus crisis. We are glad atleast now the importance of self reliance is being openly talked about, if not implemented yet. For any nation to be a Superpower, the first and foremost criteria (nevermind the rest) is to be Food Self Sufficient. And to be self reliant is to be able to make your own policies. So, we ask, how self reliant is India’s Food Policy?
Partnership for an unhealthy planet
A recent report by Boston based organisation Corporate Accountability sheds light on how big business interferes with global health policy and science. The report titled PARTNERSHIP FOR AN UNHEALTHY PLANET features GreatGameIndia‘s research on International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) – an American nonprofit which has been quietly infiltrating Indian government’s health and nutrition bodies influencing India’s food policy on behalf of the chemical industry.
Political interference by food and beverage transnationals like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nestlé, and PepsiCo is pervasive. The report dives into how these corporations have leveraged ILSI to cripple progress on nutrition policy across the globe, including in India.
Infact, there is an entire section on India with the names of the key players and their involvement. Interestingly, soon after we tweeted on it, the entire section on India just vanished from the report!
Read report by Boston based Corporate Accountability organization featuring @GreatGameIndia research on how ILSI – An International Shadowy Group Is Influencing India’s Food Policy 👉🏾 https://t.co/OBpayr8LNz
— GreatGameIndia (@GreatGameIndia) May 14, 2020
Below we are publishing the deleted India section from the report for the awareness of our readers.
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PARTNERING WITH SCIENTISTS TO PAVE THE WAY FOR BIG SODA
With a population of more than 1.3 billion people, India has long been in the cross-hairs of Big Soda’s expansion plans. Recently, Coca-Cola CEO James Quincy announced that India is quickly on its way to becoming the third-largest market for the corporation. And it will come as no surprise that ILSI has been busy laying the groundwork for said expansion.
Whether it’s spinning a complex web of revolving doors or partnering with leading research institutions to denigrate traditional diets, the trade group’s presence is proving toxic for public health. The GreatGameIndia found that ILSI’s expanding influence in India (alongside Coca-Cola’s expanding market) has “coincided with mounting rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, especially diabetes, which affects more than 70 million Indians.”
How International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), an American nonprofit with an innocuous sounding name has been quietly infiltrating Indian government’s health and nutrition bodies influencing India’s food policy on behalf of the chemical industry. https://t.co/wqxsaFOR9n
— GreatGameIndia (@GreatGameIndia) January 19, 2020
Here are some of the key players:
Runs the country’s largest research and development organization (the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research), which was established by the Indian government. Current ILSI India trustee.
Former Director of the National Institute of Nutrition, which provides guidance on nutrition policy to the country. Current ILSI India trustee.
S. K. Saxena
Director of the official export-certification body of India, which ensures quality and safety of export products. Current ILSI India trustee.
Past Director of National Institute of Nutrition and current President of the Nutrition Society of India. Gained notoriety in a 2019 New York Times exposé for his leadership of a government panel that postponed new labels for unhealthy packaged foods. Current ILSI India trustee.
Former Senior Food and Nutrition Officer at United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Current ILSI India trustee.
Director of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at Coca-Cola India Pvt. Ltd. Current ILSI India trustee.
Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Strategic Planning Department at Nestlé India Ltd. Current ILSI India trustee.
D.V.M., General Manager, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs / Quality Assurance at Ajinomoto SEA Regional Headquarters Co. Ltd. Current ILSI India trustee.
Regulatory, Scientific & Government Affairs Leader of South Asia, DuPont Nutrition & Health, Danisco (India) Pvt. Ltd, Gurugram. Current ILSI India board president.
These individuals comprise the overwhelming majority of ILSI India’s board. With the panoply of government affiliations and access, alongside the direct ties to industry, you have to wonder: how could ILSI be construed as anything but a lobbying organization (which its code of ethics forbids)?
That’s a rhetorical question.
Controlling the Niti Aayog
B. Sesikeran, for one, plays a large role in controlling the Niti Aayog, the Government of India’s policy think tank. The Times of India uncovered that many members of the Niti Aayog’s 2017 Working Group on Nutrition, not unlike the DGACs, have underlying ties to ILSI and the food and beverage industry. And at the beginning of 2020, Sesikeran spearheaded an expert review panel that reviewed India’s newly-proposed packaged foods labelling rules and mandatory genetically-modified food labelling, raising questions about severe conflict of interests and his neglect for public health.
ILSI India is emblematic of how ILSI at large ensures that the food and beverage industry are able to deepen their capture of public policy and discourse thereabouts across the globe. One such example of this is an ILSI-sponsored study on sugar consumption by two of India’s most respected research entities, the Indian Council of Medical Research, and the National Institute of Nutrition.
An alliance of public interest organizations and health professionals, the Alliance Against Conflict of Interest, was quick to call out the study as an “incompatible partnership.” The Alliance further noted “ILSI has been pursuing policy influence in India and elsewhere, in particular, with respect to sugary foods and beverages.” But when two former leaders of the National Institute of Nutrition sit on ILSI India’s Board, such partnerships are an inevitability.
What’s more, Corporate Accountability’s examination of the study found a dangerous pattern of skewed findings and deliberate omission to the benefit of ILSI’s corporate benefactors. This may explain why neither the National Institute of Nutrition nor ILSI has made the study publicly available. But in a December 2019 ILSI seminar in New Delhi Avula Laxmaiah of the National Institute did offer a presentation on the subject. From this we can gather that the study looked at consumption of fat, sugar, and salt across rural, tribal, and urban Indian populations.
In other words, the study’s intent seems to be to the absolution of food products marketed by ILSI’s corporate backers and/or redirection of public dietary concerns toward the traditional foods ILSI’s funders would hope to supplant.
Even in times of crisis, such as today’s COVID-19 pandemic, ILSI’s backers feel no scruples lobbying for the bottom line. In India, despite potential consequences to the health and well-being of workers and the community, corporations including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé, have submitted letters to the government requesting food and beverage manufacturing be exempt from the lockdown, and be considered an “essential service.” Not providing immune-suppressing sugar-sweetened beverages during this time may also prove the more essential service these corporations can provide in this time and beyond.