Current global discussions on food security and nutrition neglect the needs of infants and young children. Optimal breastfeeding (initiation within an hour after birth, exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continued breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond) is under pressure in both low-income and high-income countries. The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes is not fully implemented, and there are several issues that are not covered by that Code. The infant formula manufacturers are planning large-scale increases in infant formula use throughout the world, and no agencies are prepared to assess the likely impacts. On the basis of extensive scientific research that has already been done on formula feeding in comparison with breastfeeding, the new wave of formula feeding is likely to result in considerable harm to the health of both infants and mothers.
As suggested in my recent book on Regulating Infant Formula, many of the issues could be addressed at the global level through a new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The new Optional Protocol could present a set of widely agreed principles regarding the nutrition of children.
Working under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly, the nations of the world could negotiate a draft OPCN. Drafts could be prepared by national governments working together with nongovernmental organizations. The drafters could draw from the many documents that already propose sound principles relating to children’s nutrition such as the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding and the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. There are many other documents, now scattered, whose core ideas could be pulled together.
After the draft OPCN was adopted by the UN General Assembly, it would be open to ratification by the nations of the world. Ratification would indicate the nation’s acceptance of the OPCN and its commitment to conform its national laws to it.
The OPCN would not replace international bodies such as the United Nations Children’s Fund or the Codex Alimentarius Commission, nor would it replace national regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The OPCN would help to harmonize the work of all participating countries at the national level. It would be the apex document, setting out important principles relating to the nutrition of infants and young children.
The drafters of the OPCN would have to accommodate diversity and recognize the important differences in cultural approaches to raising children in different places. As a global document, it would focus mainly on widely accepted principles, and leave the details of implementation to be worked out in different countries according to their particular circumstances.
One of the basic principles of the OPCN would be that children have a right to foods that are both safe and nutritionally adequate. The concepts would be defined at the global level, but implemented concretely at the national level. This approach would place children’s nutrition decisively into the human rights framework. Like other forms of international law, it would not result in immediate compliance, but it would establish clear and widely agreed standards, and it would support the preparation of strong law at the national level. A new Optional Protocol on Children’s Nutrition, linked to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, would help to establish coherent regulations for ensuring that infants and young children everywhere are well nourished.
Aloha, George Kent
This thematic discussion was led by FAO and WFP in collaboration with “The World We Want”.
The consultation was facilitated by the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)