Brabeck attacks 'well-fed' activists as he tries to set food security agenda

Think of Nestlé and the fact it is one of the world's four most boycotted companies will likely come to mind. You may think of how it pushes baby milk in breach of international standards, undermining breastfeeding and contributing to the unnecessary death and suffering of babies around the world.

You may think how it competes with the most locally produced and sustainable food there is - breastmilk - making processed cow's milk, packaging it and transporting around the world to market it with untrue claims and inducements and jollies for health workers.

You may think of the food miles the company's strategy of promoting processed foods over local foods generates, the resources consumed, the green house gases emitted.

You may think of its impact on water supplies and the campaigns around the world by people who do not want Nestlé bottling their water and transporting that large distances to make a vast profit.

You may think of its promotion of Genetically Modified Organisms and the campaigns that have been waged in countries around the world to stop these being used.

You may think of the national dairy industries that have been destroyed or are under attack in places such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Brazil. You may think of the dairy farmers and coffee farmers who have had their livelihoods destroyed by Nestlé sourcing strategies.

You may think of the children forced to work on the cocoa farms that provide Nestlé with cocoa and its failure to live up to its public assurances it will address this problem.

You can find information on these and other concerns about Nestlé practices at:

Nestlé's Chairman, and former CEO, Peter Brabeck-Letmathé, wants you to think of none of these things. The man who is at the cutting edge of undermining local food security, wants “well-fed activists” to shut up.

As reported in today's Financial Times, Mr. Brabeck argues it is those: "whose hostility to new food technologies was exacerbating a global food crisis by holding back agricultural productivity."

Mr. Brabeck is trying to set the agenda at an international meeting on food security. From the Financial Times report:

"It is disheartening to see how easily a group of well-intentioned and well-fed activists can decide about new technologies at the expense of those who are starving,” he told a conference in Milan aimed at bringing the private sector into the debate on global food security."

Well, it has never been easy exposing Mr. Brabeck's dishonesty and the corrupt practices of the company he runs - remember he claimed to investigate any hint of a violation of the baby food marketing requirements, yet oversaw some of the most aggressive practices ever documented. Remember the claim that formula prevents diarrhoea, Mr. Brabeck? Or the claim you are currently putting on labels claiming formula 'protects'? It doesn't - babies fed on it are more likely to be ill than breastfed babies and in the poor countries where you do not fail to push these products, they are more likely to die.

Mr. Brabeck neglects to mention that it is in developing countries where you will find strong opposition to Nestlé practices. Those of us in Europe have a responsibility to try to carry their voice to Nestlé's doorstep and to the seat of the powers that should be holding Nestlé to account.

The article continues: "'Food security is not a short-term issue,' he said. 'It will affect [many] more than 1bn people if we do not change radically how we handle the world’s water.'"

Should the Food and Agriculture Organisation really be taking lessons from Mr. Brabeck?

Consider that Nestlé exploitation of water resources has generated opposition around the world. In the Brazilian town of São Lourenço Nestlé's water-bottling operation broke federal law according to a federal prosecutor, but it took a 10-year campaign and finally the threat of daily fines to stop it pumping. Here's a map from the case showing how Nestlé's pumping operation was operating in the area of maximum environmental vulnerability.

This was raised at shareholder meetings and directly with Mr. Brabeck, but still Nestlé refused to stop pumping until a settlement in a court case brought following a petition raised by the people of the spa town who were seeing their livelihoods from tourism destroyed. See:

It is a petty jibe at 'well-fed activists', particularly coming from a man whose basic salary was reported at the shareholder meeting as US$ 5 million per year, boosted to US$ 16 million by shareholdings. Such wealth and power gives Mr. Brabeck preferential access to those who will decide how food security will be addressed. If he has his way, you can bet sugary, salty breakfast cereals, junk food and breastmilk substitutes will be a key part of it and Nestlé will use its participation in the current meeting in Milan and any 'partnerships' that emerge from this cosying up to such bodies in its strategy for undermining the influence of civil society still further.

For an overview of what governments and international bodies should be doing to protect food security, see the book produced by a Task Force of the UN System Standing Committee on Nutrition, called Global Obligations for the Right to Food. I wrote the chapter on holding corporations to account.

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