A LinkedIn blog by ATNI Executive Director, Inge Kauer

We know that poor diets represent a risk to the health and wellbeing of people and planet, and that food production and consumption need to be radically transformed to promote healthy, sustainable and equitable food systems that can help us deliver on the SDGs agenda. With three billion people globally being unable to afford a healthy diet and diet-related diseases being one of the primary causes of illness and death, as also evidenced by the relationship between obesity and the COVID-19 pandemic, malnutrition in all its forms represents an unbearable burden to our society. Healthy eating patterns must be made affordable and accessible to all, and especially to priority populations at risk of malnutrition, through ambitious and effective pricing and distribution policies – an area of action where global food companies continue to lag behind.

We know that malnutrition is a systemic issue which requires concerted action from all actors in and above the food supply chain, including regulatory bodies, businesses, civil society and consumers. Mounting evidence shows that regulatory action can successfully foster public health goals and create a level playing field for businesses. Research also shows that targeted action on product reformulation and in-store product placement can deliver positive results (and returns) for both businesses and consumers. At the same time, as interest for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues (including nutrition) grows in the investment community and as advocacy groups increasingly scrutinize the private sector, food companies are being asked to step up their efforts to contribute to healthier eating patterns and to report on these systematically and transparently.

We know that the largest food companies globally have the potential to reach billions of consumers worldwide. This means that they have the unique opportunity, as well as the responsibility, to help them make healthier choices. Since 2013, ATNI has been carrying out its mission to drive the private sector’s performance on affordable, healthy diets by monitoring private sector action (and inaction) across different stages of the food supply chain and across different geographies. Through the dissemination of robust and independent research, ATNI encourages companies to do better and, also with the support of its Investor Signatories, positive improvements have been achieved thus far.

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ATNI’s Global Index 2021, which assessed the 25 largest food and beverage manufacturers globally, indicated that, whilst some companies have made significant progress since 2018, the industry as a whole has made only small improvements. Similarly, ATNI’s COVID-19 Project, which tracked nutrition-sensitive responses by 39 food companies over the first 18 months of the pandemic, found that whilst several global manufacturers were quick in responding to the rapidly changing shocks caused by the pandemic, none adopted strategic, measurable, and forward-looking policies placing nutrition at the very core of their business model.

As the triple burden of malnutrition continues to worsen – global rates of overweight / obesity, undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies remain at worryingly high levels – stakeholder expectations continue to rise. To keep pace with these expectations, food companies at all stages of the supply chain need to prioritize nutrition by putting in place stronger commitments and by timely delivering on those. The world was not on track to deliver on the Global Nutrition Targets before the pandemic, and COVID-19 has made it all the more obvious that governments and consumers globally need and expect change.

In this Nutrition Year of Action, expectations for positive food systems transformation are elevated by today’s  UN Food Systems Summit and will continue to rise in the lead up to the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit in December. As a matter of fact, a wide and diverse range of new initiatives are emerging to catalyze the transformation that is so urgently needed. Amongst these, for instance, there is the Accountability Pact, a new coalition of over 200 researchers and food and nutrition experts who believe that holding public and private sector actors to account through monitoring of their commitments and performance can be a powerful tool to reorient food systems and diets to be healthy, sustainable, and equitable. By committing to “expanding the application of our expertise to strengthening food systems monitoring for accountability through generating evidence, translating evidence, and advocating for applying evidence in food systems transformation” Accountability Pact signatories – among which ATNI – hope to foster the concrete, measurable, and transparently communicated action that is needed.

I am looking forward to these two global Summits as I believe they will help to bring new momentum to the nutrition agenda and will strengthen ATNI’s call to action to food and beverage companies worldwide. I hope these two Summits will inspire many companies to make use of the recently launched Nutrition Accountability Framework to submit bold and SMART commitments that will significantly improve our food systems.

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