EAST HANOVER, NJ - April 27 - Public interest organizations are raising concerns about Krafts role in driving an epidemic of obesity with junk food promotion while undermining international measures to protect public health. At the corporations annual shareholders meeting, Kraft executives are facing hard-hitting questions from Infact, a leading corporate accountability organization, about how Big Foods dangerous and irresponsible influence-peddling practices are mirroring those of Big Tobacco.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that obesity-related illnesses will claim more than 500,000 lives each year in the US by 2005. Globally, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers linked to diet and obesity are part of a major shift in the cause of death around the world. In response to this epidemic, the WHO is moving ahead with a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Developed as a set of policy recommendations for governments, the WHOs Global Strategy would help inform consumers about the dangers of foods high in sugar, salt and fat while curtailing promotion of junk food.
Kraft, in lock step with parent corporation Philip Morris/Altria, is looking to fatten its profits at the expense of global health. The tobacco industry is notorious for derailing public health policy around the world. As countries come together to address an epidemic of malnutrition that is being driven by the food industry, Kraft and its allies are taking a page directly from Big Tobaccos play book on aggressive influence-peddling, said Infact Campaign Director Patti Lynn at todays Kraft shareholders meeting.
Philip Morris/Altria acquired Kraft Foods in 1988 to try to improve the tobacco giants tarnished image. Kraft Foods has aided Philip Morris/Altrias attempts to weaken WHOs initiative on tobacco, including the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Negotiators overcame the influence of Big Tobacco in developing an FCTC that bans tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, but Kraft is using similar tactics to undermine WHOs Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.
Just as they took positions supporting the tobacco industry during negotiations on the FCTC, Bush Administration officials have tried to protect the food industry-including by denying a connection between unhealthy foods and obesity. Kraft and Philip Morris/Altria have been major Republican funders.
Philip Morris/Altria is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers of America and Kraft CEO Roger Deromedi sits on its board. The industry trade association is trying to shift the WHOs focus away from restrictions that would address the food industrys role in the obesity epidemic. The GMAs international umbrella organization is seeking official relations with WHO, a status reserved for non-governmental organizations concerned with public health-which would give it direct access to proceedings on diet and health, government and WHO officials.
Across the planet, public health groups want to reduce the incidence of marketing-related diseases like obesity with a worldwide ban on junk food marketing to children, and with the WHOs Global Strategy. Regrettably, the Global Strategy has come under fire by food corporations, industry trade groups, and the US government. But the FCTC process has taught us that when countries are united around protecting public health, they can prevail even in the face of the most powerful economic forces, says Gary Ruskin, Executive Director of Commercial Alert.
Infact, Commercial Alert and dozens of allied organizations around the world have called on WHO to include a ban on junk food marketing to children in its Global Strategy. The World Health Assembly will take up the Global Strategy at its meeting in mid-May.
From 1994 until June 2003, Infacts Boycott of Kraft Foods became an increasing liability for Philip Morris/Altria. The Kraft Boycott was lifted in June 2003 in recognition of the adoption of the FCTC, an international treaty that will change the way the tobacco industry operates globally. Infact and its allies are also attending the Philip Morris/Altria annual meeting this week to expose and challenge the corporations ongoing abuses-such as the Marlboro Man ad campaign, arguably the worlds leading source of youth tobacco addiction. Infact continues to monitor Kraft and its parent company Philip Morris/Altria to make sure they do not interfere with the FCTC as it moves swiftly toward adoption.