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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Invitation to an open discussion on the political outcome document of the ICN2

Ted Greiner
Ted Greinerformerly Hanyang University and Natural Resources Institute, Greenwich UniversityBrazil

The ICN would make an important contribution to global policymaking toward the elimination of all forms of malnutrition if the developing countries would openly question what is going on lately in the donor world. We have seen how disastrous passive acceptance of assistance completely on the donors’ terms has been in the case of vitamin A deficiency. Not only were capsules the only thing on offer, their universalization to over 100 countries has actively inhibited the expansion of what developing country governments always expressed as their preference and what was emphasized in the first ICN: food based approaches.  (Latham, Michael, et al. "World Nutrition." Journal of the World Public Health Nutrition Association 1.1 (2010).; This kind of cloaked imperialism now threatens to expand to the entire field of nutrition.

IFPRI has recently published Stuart Gillespie's quite good chapter on politics and nutrition in their recent 2013 Global Food Policy Report and published it as a separate article on their website:'s points are all well taken.

But to resort to Field's old "underbelly" metaphor (Field, John Osgood. "The soft underbelly of applied knowledge: conceptual and operational problems in nutrition planning." Food policy 2.3 (1977): 228-239.), the question is what all this new political will is being mobilized to do exactly? To what extent will it undertake to deal with the time consuming and low-PR task of addressing weaknesses in capacity? When addressed, will education and training efforts aim to create Alan Berg's "nutrition engineers" (Berg, Alan. "Sliding toward nutrition malpractice: time to reconsider and redeploy." Annual review of nutrition 13.1 (1993): 1-16.) or people with only theoretical scientific knowledge? 

So far the signs are not promising. SUN, like the Millennium Development Goals, has been successful in mobilization even the USA basically by being “non-political”. (Which really means not questioning the currently ascendant neoliberal model of development.) This has involved inviting Big Agriculture and Big Food to the policymaking forums/tables where they have not been welcome in the past, either at international or national levels. It is hard to imagine what benefits are expected to accrue from such "partnerships" if indeed the intention is to avoid conflicts of interest or merely giving large transnational corporations, many of whom are highly complicit in harming nutrition via infant formula or junk foods, a way to score extremely low-cost public relations points. 

The recent 2013 addition to the Lancet nutrition series by Black et al identified 10 high priority interventions (Bhutta, Zulfiqar A., et al. "Evidence-based interventions for improvement of maternal and child nutrition: what can be done and at what cost?." The Lancet382.9890 (2013): 452-477.). Given the way complementary feeding is being interpreted in recent years (local foods are inadequate to solve the problem), the only one of those 10 that would not involve the import of fortificants and/or other products from the rich countries is breastfeeding. Even breastfeeding in recent decades focuses not on empowering communities, families or mothers themselves, but on improving the work of modern health care professionals (eg the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative). 

Thus the community-based nutrition approaches which Stuart and others (Tontisirin, Kraisid, and Stuart Gillespie. "Linking community-based programs and service delivery for improving maternal and child nutrition." Asian Development Review 17.1/2 (1999): 33-65.) focused so brilliantly on when the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition was still active (now dead in the water as punishment for NOT being willing to indulge in collaboration with industry) will likely not see much emphasis as these currently committed billions roll. One wonders in indeed, how many of them will even cross developing country borders. 

Ted Greiner, PhD
Professor of Nutrition
Department of Food and Nutrition
Hanyang University
222 Wangsimni Ro
Seoul 133-791
South Korea