Food Justice -PHASA conference

TThe SAMRC/Wits Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science chaired a panel discussion at the 2022 PHASA conference hosted in Durban in September 2022. The panel titled, Industry, Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and Determinants of Health, consisted of expert panellists who work in policy related to alcohol, tobacco, child-directed marketing of sugary beverages, and infant feeding. 
The panel highlighted the importance of exploring the commercial determinants of health, which refers to a subgroup of social determinants on how industry and corporations harm health, and use their power to influence policy. This is of particular importance in the case of NCDs, as industries such as alcohol, tobacco, and big food have a fiduciary duty to maximise profit even if it is at the expense of population health. Industries often use a similar “playbook” of tactics in order to achieve this goal. The panel touched on the marketing tactics used by corporations through the deployment of corporate social responsibility and partnerships, such as the sponsorship of sport events by alcohol companies. Although the intentions of industry are overt in this case, many subtle tactics are commonly used in health spaces. In the context of research and academia, panellists shared the way in which industry attempts to undermine science and position themselves as experts creating doubt about the existing weighty evidence, they promote the narrative of social responsibility, and they make use pseudo-civil society groups to promote their agenda. In cases where they are exposed or held accountable, they institute intimidation tactics and often use their financial power to sway political will. 
It is clear from this that industries are incapable of self-regulating, and that unbiased government action is required to ensure that public wellbeing remains at the forefront of the governmental agenda. Those in health and policy spaces need to be aware of and resist these tactics in order to mitigate the negative consequences of industry interference. A first step in tackling the issue is the implementation of explicit and comprehensive conflict-of-interest policies in all institutions. Advocates of health need to collaborate in order to align their strategies used to address industry tactics. A Health Promotion Foundation was proposed as a route for achieving this by having a formalised body through which corporate strategies can be monitored and addressed, and unbiased funding for policy research and healthy advocacy activities achieved. Unless we confront these issues, we continue to shoulder the increasing burden of NCD’s at significant cost to the country in terms of lives and financial resources.

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