Corporate Muscle Maintains Childhood Obesity

[ominous shadows of a man and a child]

Some news stories remain current and relevant for a long time. For instance, one branch of the United Nations is the Food and Agriculture Organisation, whose mission is “to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.” Four years ago during FAO’s Compassion in World Farming Conference, speakers regretted how corporate interests insist on “blocking reforms which would improve human health and the environment.”

A world problem

Juliette Jowit reported on the remarks made by Dr. Samuel Jutzi, speaking as the Director of FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division. Because the FAO operates on the basis of consensus, Dr. Jutzi regretted that “powerful lobby groups were able to delay decisions, sometimes for many years, and ‘water down’ proposed improvements.” When dealing with a large number of national governments, it’s not difficult for opponents to persuade enough delegates of their viewpoint, to stall or derail any suggestion.

Among the decisions not made and the measures not taken are many that would affect the worldwide obesity epidemic, and the childhood obesity nightmare in particular. Tom Lang, a professor of food policy, warned of ongoing efforts by corporate lobbyists to influence the FAO and similar organizations, and to negate their effectiveness. Even worse, Jowit wrote:

Lang said corporate interests had also become ’embedded’ inside UN organisations through close and regular contacts between the people involved. ‘They don’t need to lobby increasingly, and mostly they are part of the architecture of power,’ he said.

Speaking as the director of public affairs for Compassion in World Farming, Joyce d’Silva spoke about how hard that organization tries to influence opinion, going up against major agribusiness corporations and national governments hostile to change. Jowit wrote:

She added that it was ‘horrifying’ that ‘the narrow interests of certain commercial sectors can have more influence than organizations which represent the values and aspirations of millions of citizens.’

Not much has changed. Today, are narrow commercial interests able to wield more influence than groups that try to make the voices of millions of citizens heard? Are corporate lobbyists still hard at work trying to buy influence? Are they still able to easily throw a monkey wrench into the machinery of progress? Yes, yes, and yes. Michael Pollan says of the American way of doing things:

The Congressional committees in charge of agricultural policies remain dominated by farm-state legislators openly hostile to reform…. the power of agribusiness has scarcely been disturbed.

One of the most explicit books about this ugly subject is Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children by Joel Bakan, who also wrote another book called The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl reviewed Childhood Under Siege, noting that the author includes separate chapters devoted to each of eight ways in which corporations exploit children. Typical is their habit, Young-Bruehl writes, of “addicting children to regimes of sugar and caffeine, contributing to zooming rates of childhood obesity and diabetes and neurological disorders.”

Corporations in your head

Especially discomfiting is Bakan’s contention that corporations are taking over the public education system with the aim of training children to be massive consumers and good corporate citizens. This co-opting is already happening with adults, such as required (and corporate-sponsored) continuing education for health professionals, as Childhood Obesity News has discussed. Here is the reviewer’s recommendation:

If a group of legislators or policy-makers concerned about protecting children and childhood from being targeted by corporations were looking for a briefing book, a catalogue of abuses, Joel Bakan’s Childhood Under Siege would certainly be the right choice. It would inform them about the key American fronts of an undeclared corporate anti-child war.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Corporate lobbying is blocking food reforms, senior UN official warns,” Guardian.co.uk, 09/22/10
Source: “How Change Is Going to Come in the Food System,” TheNation.com, 09/14/11
Source: “Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children,” TheGlobeandMail.com, 09/06/12
Image by Ctd 2005

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