Food and beverage companies unite to tackle “hidden hunger”

Posted by James Ferre on 15th May 2009

The food and grocery sector needs to unite to use its influence and contacts if the world is to address the “forgotten Millennium Goal” of hidden hunger, according to a Joint Declaration signed today by some of the world’s biggest food and nutrition companies.

The companies involved – DSM, Unilever, Pepsico, Amway and Interflour – committed themselves to re-invigorating the private sector’s contribution to tackling hidden hunger. They agreed to expand their ongoing collaboration with all stakeholders and called for the alignment of global projects and programmes towards the elimination of hidden hunger.

The firms urged all those public bodies tasked with addressing hunger and members of civil society who care about this issue, to join with them to raise the profile of the problem of hidden hunger which is “not high enough on the Government agenda, the development agenda, nor on the media’s agenda”.

Hidden hunger
The commitment was announced at the Micronutrient Forum 2009 in Beijing, which brings together all of the actors involved in addressing the problem of micronutrient deficiency which affects two billion people worldwide. Often called ‘hidden hunger’, micronutrient deficiency describes a pernicious condition where people seem healthy because they get each day enough calories to live – but in reality their poor diet means they are missing out on key minerals and vitamins that, particularly for the young, have extremely serious health consequences.

Nutritional scientists now understand that a lack of key vitamins and minerals causes both physical and mental under-development, meaning stunted growth, learning difficulties and much higher propensity to suffer chronic diseases like cancer, stroke and diabetes – and, arguably counter-intuitively, a much higher chance that the sufferer will end up obese in later life. Inevitably, the poor suffer most: hidden hunger presents not just an appalling social cost, but also huge economic costs due to lost economic production and soaring health costs in countries that can least afford either.

The declaration highlights that no one sector – neither public, nor private – will be able to solve this problem alone. Public agencies’ commitment to deliver food to the world’s poorest needs to be allied with the innovation and R&D of food and nutrition companies, who understand how to create food and food supplements that can meet these crucial needs. Moreover both need to come together to raise the profile of what is in danger of becoming a forgotten issue amidst concern about the world’s financial systems.

“It is time for the world to wake up and address this silent disaster,” Stephan Tanda, Board Member at DSM – the world’s largest supplier of vitamins and minerals, said on behalf of the signatories. “It is easy to forget in a time of global economic crisis that a crisis unfolds every day for those who cannot eat well enough to stay healthy. None of us are doing enough to draw attention to the plight of hundreds of millions, whose hunger problems today cause pain for them now and for the Governments of their countries today and tomorrow.”

“That is why I am proud to commit my company to this fight and to this declaration today. We must continue the R&D and innovations we are already undertaking, especially in these tough economic times. But we must also drive the oxygen of publicity into a campaign to persuade Governments, the media and wider society, mostly in the West, to look up and see the reality of life with hidden hunger for so many of our fellow human beings.”

The Chairman of the Micronutrient Forum, Professor Al Sommer from John Hopkins University, was excited to see such prominent companies outline a more valuable commitment to the issue.

“I am delighted to see the private sector is increasing its commitment to the eradication of hidden hunger,” he said. “We welcome the greater involvement of the private sector, not just in creating accessible, affordable and acceptable food products, but also in helping us draw attention to the calamity of this forgotten Millennium Goal.”