The following is a guest post from Greg S. Garrett, executive director for the Access to Nutrition Initiative.
Last week, a landmark conference on food and nutrition was hosted by the White House. President Biden challenged us all to think big, take action and work together. We all know we need to if we are to stand a chance of getting anywhere near close to eradicating hunger and diet-related diseases and death by 2030.
Curiously, some big players were noticeably absent, namely the largest food and beverage manufacturers in the US.
The Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI), an independent nonprofit organization that helps improve the performance of the private sector in delivering nutritious diets, believes that success can only be attained with the buy-in and more active involvement of the private sector.
We call for a transformation of the U.S. food system and market, starting with the private sector. We accept this is no simple task.
ATNI has spent 10 years mining through the records of the world’s largest food manufacturers, and our findings strongly indicate that while the food and beverage industry has made good progress, it still has a long way to go. With good leadership from government and accountability measures from investors and the boardroom, there is hope. Many countries already rely on effective public-private partnerships and accountability platforms to help ensure families have access to affordable, healthy food. The U.S. is far behind. This needs to change.
Our data reveals the scale of the task. With two weeks until the launch of our second U.S. Index, which measures how well food and beverage manufacturers are doing in their efforts to make and market healthy products, we are asking if the sector has improved since 2018. Or to be blunt: Has the industry managed to put more healthy products on shelves? Based on international standards, ATNI calculated 70% of food and beverage products offered by major brands to U.S consumers are less healthy options with higher levels of added sugar, salt and fat and not enough fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fiber. This is unacceptable. Is it any better now?
To date, voluntary measures to reduce salt, sugar and fat have not translated to healthier portfolios. There needs to be a clear symbiotic relationship between business and politics. It will be an essential catalyst to generate the necessary momentum that is needed to get industry to make the right systemic changes.
The White House’s national strategy is a good first step in holding both public and private sectors accountable to the health of U.S. families. But it’s just that: a step. We cannot afford continued stagnation or slow progress among the largest manufacturers who make, market and sell our food. Together, the public and private sectors need to get out of their comfort zones. Public servants and private executives need to set manageable targets, as well as consult, engage and track performance.
ATNI is committed to help provide the necessary data, analysis and good practice to power this transformation.
As President Biden told us during the opening of the conference, when we last worked together like this with a clear goal, we landed on the moon. Let’s make transforming the food system to provide healthy diets for all the new moonshot.