Discussing how to make food systems deliver more nutrition with the European Commission

By Lawrence Haddad, GAIN‘s Executive Director

Last week I presented on the role of business in food systems to improve the consumption of nutritious safe foods.

I focused on the need to develop innovative ways to create the demand for healthy food, ways of supporting businesses and governments to meet and shape that demand, and what governments can do to make it easier for businesses to do the right thing for nutrition and harder to do the wrong thing. I highlighted each of the three points with impact examples from GAIN’s own work. The slides are here.

It was an audience of European Commission (EC) officials and the Brussels NGO community and I got some good questions:

  • What data are missing in the public-private space?

A: One example is that businesses in low-income-countries have very little public (or for purchase) market information data to draw on.

  • What is the impact on farmers of more affordable foods?

A: Farmers are also businesses, so they have to get fair prices, and they set their prices to maximise sales revenue. But lower prices further along the value chain need to generate good demand linkages for their products.

  • How can we guarantee the foods that are supposed to be fortified, actually are at the point of consumption?

A: GAIN regularly undertakes Fortification Assessment Coverage Toolkit (FACT) surveys which measure the coverage (was fortified food actually consumed?), coverage of adequately fortified foods (was the food properly fortified?) and effective overage (is enough fortified food consumed to close a nutrient gap?). Through our ENABLE Platform and country teams we work with businesses and governments to help them, comply with and monitor, respectively, the national laws and standards.

  • What about the environmental impacts of different “healthy” foods?

A: The evidence base on the trade-offs with water, soil and energy of producing more nutritious foods is not there right now so we have to be very careful to do no environmental harm.

A: Where animal source food consumption is low, the requirements per kg are high and there are few alternatives for getting the nutrients in the right concentration then animal source food consumption is justified on nutritional grounds. If you eat high levels, you should consider reducing your consumption—this is essentially the advice from WHO and national food based dietary guidelines.

  • What are the implications for research?

A: More research needs to be done to increase the productivity of, for example, fruits, vegetables, pulses, eggs and dairy. In addition we need a dedicated research programme on the nutrition impacts of public-private collaboration—there is too little evidence on whether the private sector collaborations actually add nutrition value.

  • Do you consider ultra-processed fortified foods to be nutritious foods?

A: No. The science around these foods is not settled but we are taking a precautionary approach and not including these as part of our definition of nutritious foods.

  • Food is important, but what about the other determinants of malnutrition?

A: Absolutely, the aim is to work where poor diet is one of the key limiting factors.  That is why we do contextual and formative research ahead of programme development.

The External Investment Plan

As Commissioner Mimica stated at the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Lead Group meeting in New York last week, the European Union (EU) wants to do more to engage the private-sector intelligently to bring in new capacities, resources and opportunities to advance nutrition while not doing anything to endanger the advances of the past 10 years.

Although it is a general development facility (EUR€ 3.5billion) to engage the private-sector, the new External Investment Plan represents a good opportunity for nutrition given its triple objectives of (1) mobilising resources, (2) providing technical assistance to businesses, governments and civil society and (3) a focus on the enabling environment for businesses that want to do good things for nutrition.

We should all stand ready to help nutrition champions within the EU to leverage this facility to transform markets to make them more pro-nutrition.


This blog is also available on Development Horizons

Download Lawrence Haddad’s presentation here

Learn more about GAIN’s Marketplace for Nutritious Foods here

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Published 4 October 2017