Last ATNI COVID-19 report: The time for change26 July 2021
After more than a year since the start of the pandemic, it is clear that COVID-19 and the responses to it by companies and consumer reactions have presented risks and challenges for nutrition, including issues around increased consumption and marketing of unhealthy foods, donations that may not be of healthy products and concerns around inappropriate labelling of products as being immunity boosting. However, there are clear opportunities for companies to play a more positive role, with examples emerging – whether this is responding to consumer demand for healthier products, renewing a focus on equity and priority populations, or leveraging their ability to support supply chains.
This last quarterly report begins with an overview of COVID-19’s impacts on health and on all forms of malnutrition, a full year after the publication of the first report, and includes a timeline of key moments and reports that have been published since the start of the crisis. The effects of COVID-19 fall on the most vulnerable, with this inequity coming very strongly to the fore in recent months, including around vaccination access.
The report then turns to an overview of recent action by food companies across all the Categories of the Framework. It returns to the 39 food and beverage companies first assessed in Report 2: An acute response to see the development of their response beyond the immediate crisis of the first few months, and highlights new trends such as increasing concerns around inequity in the food system and issues such as vaccination priority.
Recommendations for the food industry are threaded throughout, drawing on learnings from all four reports and from consultation with expert stakeholders. These recommendations form a comprehensive package of measures to ensure an effective nutrition-sensitive response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Figure 1 summarizes the most urgent recommendations, to be actioned immediately were a similar crisis to arise in the future.
ATNI calls on all the world’s major food and beverage companies to step further along this path, taking consistent steps towards a future in which the food system is more resilient to COVID-19 and its economic and nutrition aftershocks, and also to any crises in the future. COVID-19 has been a moment of reckoning and it must be a moment of change.
ATNI hopes that NGOs, investors, governments and the food industry itself will use the series of reports to inform their approaches to enabling a response to COVID-19 that maximizes benefits for nutrition. Even before the pandemic, the extent of all forms of malnutrition globally was a clear indication that the food system was not delivering for those with little or no access to affordable healthy food. Already more than halfway through the Decade of Action on Nutrition, the world is long overdue a food-system transformation, building back better and fairer from COVID-19, and the world’s major food and beverage companies can and must play a key role in driving this forward. ATNI hopes that this report and its recommendations will help companies to provide and promote good nutrition for all, during the immediate crisis and far into the future.
Even without COVID-19 focusing the attention of the world on food production and food security, 2021 would be a crucial year for nutrition. In September 2021, the UN is holding the first Food Systems Summit, which aims to launch bold new actions to transform food systems as a whole, delivering progress on all 17 SDGs. Then, in December, the postponed Nutrition for Growth summit will be held, which will secure new nutrition commitments from governments, donor agencies and research funders, UN agencies, civil society organizations, academia, and private sector actors across five areas, namely health, food, resilience, data-driven accountability, and nutrition financing.
These are a chance to discuss and act on the challenges facing global nutrition, including the significant exacerbation of malnutrition seen under COVID-19. This report is a launch pad for what comes next.