55 Conflicts of Interest in Food security and Nutrition Policies: Which way forward for the CFS?

Background and policy options to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and safeguard public policy spaces on food security and nutrition against undue influence

Organizers: Civil Society Mechanism (CSM)

Abstract

The side event aims to provide information and raise awareness on current understandings of Conflicts of Interest (CoI) across different policy domains and promote a lively discussion among interested CFS constituencies on the relevance of CoI to the food and nutrition policy domains, with particular reference to the CFS. The side event will explore examples of conflicts of interest as experienced at national level and/or within concrete areas of concern and discuss policies and safeguards that have been put in place to protect against conflicts of interest in these respective domains. This information and knowledge will inform a policy debate among representatives of various CFS constituencies on possible ways to address this issue within the CFS.

Key speakers

Moderators: Laura Michéle, FIAN, and Stefano Prato, Society for International Development

Jonathan H. Marks, Associate Professor of Bioethics, Humanities and Law, Penn State University

Patti Rundall, International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN)

Mafizur Rahman, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to FAO, IFAD and WFP

Hala Boukerdenna, World Health Organisation (WHO)

Robynne Anderson, Private Sector Mechanism of the CFS

Marisa Macari, El Poder del Consumidor

Main themes/issues discussed

The issue of conflicts of interest (CoI) and their relevance to the food and nutrition policy domains, with particular reference to the CFS, was identified as the main theme of the side event. The need to safeguard the public policy spaces against possible CoI has been the subject of considerable attention over the past years within various international and national policy spaces. It was reflected in the Framework for Action endorsed by the Second International Conference on Nutrition, which is explicitly recalled in the final proposal of the CFS OEWG on Nutrition. The establishment of robust CoI measures within the CFS is seen by some as an essential requirement for the continued legitimacy and effectiveness of the CFS. In such a context, the CSM side event was conceived to 1) provide background information on the broader issue of CoI; 2) share and discuss examples of CoI as well as possible safeguard measures experienced at national level or within a specific policy domain (ex. food, health); and, 3) engage the different CFS’ constituencies in a constructive dialogue about CoI, its challenges and possible ways to address it within CFS.

Summary of key points

The following key issues were raised during the side event:

The risk of Conflicts of Interest is a key concern to be addressed by inter-governmental organizations (as well as for civil society and public institutions) in order to safeguard their own independence, credibility, integrity and trustworthiness;

There is a growing misuse and abuse of the term “inclusion” to validate the blurring of the lines between public and private interests and between rights-holders and stakeholders;

Partnerships between governments and industry - if unchecked, unbalanced and unregulated – augment this risk and are likely to undermine the public interest as the resulting public policies are likely to be least threatening to the interests of the industry;

Partnerships have been identified as a core component of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, they cannot be considered without appropriate qualifications and adequate safeguards on how to reduce risks of undue influences. This is compelling for the CFS as well as for all so-called “multi-stakeholder” platforms and partnerships;

Voluntary measures and self-regulations are not enough to hold industry accountable. Mandatory measures and adequate laws are required, Indeed, there is a need to recover and reaffirm the centrality of public policies and regulations (including selective taxation and market regulations) to enhance the common goods and protect and fulfill human rights;

Independence and integrity of research are key as industry funded research is more likely to be biased and become benevolent towards its source of funding; 

Attempts to protect public spaces from possible CoI are confronted with particular challenges in the complexity and interdependences of today’s world, as no single space can be easily insulated from the vast array of avenues that can influence it.

Key outcomes/take away messages

The side event contributed to provide a better understanding of the challenge of conflict of interest within the CFS, and served to raise awareness among representatives of various CFS constituencies on the need to initiate a policy oriented discussion on possible ways to address this issue within the CFS. The key outcomes can be summarized as follows:

  • Increased understanding among the participants of conflicts of interest and what challenges they may pose to policy spaces related to agriculture, food and health, including the CFS;
  • Increased engagement among participants about the need to address CoI within CFS and an emerging commitment to work together towards possible solutions;
  • Greater awareness that any “one-size fits all” CoI policy is not going to be robust enough to address this complex problem and a thorough and comprehensive multi-layer approach is required.