A new article looks at how producers of such products as commercial milk formulas, processed foods, alcoholic beverages, pharmaceuticals and electronic gaming software have been ramping up efforts to influence United States policy toward the WHO.
Has the World Health Organization become collateral damage in the wars over global commerce? Producers of such products as commercial milk formulas, processed foods, alcoholic beverages, pharmaceuticals and electronic gaming software have been ramping up efforts to influence United States policy toward the WHO. This, University of California, Davis, researchers suggest in a new paper, compromises a global health governance system that should be free of commercial influence.
The article, published today in the May 2022 issue of Global Health Governance, is the first comprehensive study of lobbying expenditures directed at the U.S. government related to policy towards the WHO, the lead United Nations authority on health. Data uncovered through Freedom of Information Act requests — and through analysis of other public documents and disclosures dating back to 2006 — reveal cross-industry coordination aimed at shaping WHO operational policy and public health guidelines, as well as the funding of the WHO itself, Russ said.
“It’s not about any one administration or party,” Russ said. “This intensifying corporate lobbying over U.S. positions on global health is problematic because it elevates commercial interests in processes shaping global health objectives. Furthermore, these corporate entities have vast, concentrated pools of private wealth to draw on that public-interest groups lobbying for health policy cannot match.”
The WHO recommendations that were targeted by lobbyists, according to researchers, include common health-promoting policy efforts such as:
- constraining inappropriate marketing of infant and toddler formulas that can confuse parents making choices about breastfeeding and children’s nutrition
- encouraging consumers to limit sugar and alcohol in their diet
- broadening access to essential medicines, including COVID-related programs
- drawing attention to the addictive effects of video games
Although not directly linked to this coalition, the tobacco industry has undertaken simultaneous lobbying in recent years on efforts to criticize the WHO for limiting input by commercial actors in shaping global health policy, with one tobacco-linked group recommending a 25% cut to U.S. funding for the organization, according to researchers.
The researchers noted that the U.S. has stronger disclosure laws than other member states of the WHO, making a similar analysis of European Union countries impossible.