A Project of the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society

World Health Organization Daily Report from Geneva - Jan 23


World Health Organization Daily Report

January 23, 2007

Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo is present with the U.S. Delegation for the World Health Organization's 120th Executive Board Session in Geneva. What follows is his daily report for Tuesday, January 23rd.


The "McDonalds and Coca Cola Culture"

The major issue on today's agenda involved the "prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases: implementation of the global strategy." By noncommunicable diseases, the WHO means issues such as "unhealthy diet," "physical inactivity," and "tobacco and alcohol use."

In the report presented today by the WHO Secretariat, it was recommended that the WHO Member States recognize that "greater efforts are required globally to...improve the quality of food and drink products, including information available to consumers and the way in which products are marketed, especially to children." The report further requested that there be "dialogue with the private sector in order to increase availability of healthy foods, promote healthy diets, reduce marketing and promotion of unhealthy products, and increase access to medicines for high-risk populations in low- and middle-income countries."

All eyes were on whether some Member States would call for an international code or international standards calling for restrictions on marketing practices that may be viewed as targeting children. Some in the pharmaceutical industry also wondered whether references to access to medicines might lead to compulsory licensing, pricing, or other debates in relation to heart- and diabetes-related medicines.

For its part, the US Delegation acknowledged that the problem with non-communicable diseases is "extensive," but also noted that they are "among the most preventable diseases" and that UN technical assistance should focus on tobacco, unhealthy diets, and lack of physical activity, with particular emphasis on collecting scientific and demographic data that helps countries measure the disease burden. The US Delegation will be offering a number of proposals to amend the current resolution draft. Specifically, the US noted that some language needs to be tightened (for example, there is a difference between references to "alcohol use" in the current text versus "harmful use of alcohol"), and the US may also suggest changing the resolution's emphasis from attacking unhealthy foods to promoting healthy foods.

Several NGOs--Consumers International, in particular--called for "national measures to regulate marketing," "transparency in food labeling," and an "international code for marketing to children" that would "restrict marketing of unhealthy food to children." But, at least as of the filing of this report, consensus does not seem to be emerging for such an extensive call for regulation. Final debate is scheduled for tomorrow, after which the WHO then will turn to the issue of IP protection and human health (sure to be a controversial subject).

Importantly, the debate that is transpiring here tracks a US domestic battle over regulation of and liability for fatty foods and soft drinks. The threat of obesity litigation arose early in 2006 in Massachusetts, and, there is much debate over child marketing and food and soft drink offerings within the schoolhouse.