The hurdles to achieving the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) were discussed during a panel entitled, “Strategic Outlook: Shifting mindsets”, highlighting the importance of education and communication.
Speakers stressed the value of filling data gaps in global dietary intakes, in order to implement accurate and effective health interventions, in the face of significant global nutrient deficiencies.
Steve Wearne, chairperson at Codex Alimentarius Commission, said: “I think from all the times in my career, this might be the most exciting one because of the potential that we have.
"As we have heard today, the multi-lateral environment is coming to a consensus on what might be needed. The evidence, even though some of it has been around for decades, is being explained in new ways to be more compelling. And so now we ask, how do we turn all of that into sustainably coordinated action?”
Answering this question, Lynnette Neufeld, Director of Food and Nutrition Division at FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) said: “Having these discussions here today is a great start. The nutrition sector, which I can speak for, is deeply distrustful in the industry.
“But we need to get over that distrust and start talking about the areas where we can confidently say there’s a mutual benefit. We need to rest the areas where there’s conflict and competition for the goals that we want to achieve for public health nutrition and understand that the underlying goal for industry is profit. How can we overcome this? We don’t talk about it all enough.
“Talking about healthy diets and reframing what that means, can be a good entry point into making some progress,” she concluded.
Martin Dos-Ramos, VP and global head of dietary supplements at DSM-Firmenich, reflected on a recently published global company survey conducted by IPSOS investigating environmental sustainability within the supplement sector.
He explained: “A surprise to many people was that people want to do the right thing. People do care about sustainability, but do they want to pay for that? No. Do companies want to do the right thing? Yes. Are they committed to long term [sustainability] investments and actions? Not always.”
The report established that of the 335 companies questioned, 56% stated that sustainability was now highly relevant to their company.
In terms of what was holding companies back when it comes to focussing more on environmental sustainability, the majority mentioned the cost of sustainability actions to the end consumer (48%), whilst a similar proportion mentioned the cost to the company itself (44%).
Debbie Laverty, VP of global regulatory affairs and quality assurance at Amway, said: “One key takeaway from today is that there are many ways and partnerships that we can use to educate consumers, and some of that needs to be in sustainability and all the effort that goes into it. Because consumers only see the outcome, which is a product with claims and recyclable packaging, without understanding all that goes into that.”
She added that the establishment of common standards and rules around the implementation of sustainable outcomes for companies was needed to make a real difference. She explained how this would help to lower the associated costs with achieving these targets, which are inevitably passed on to the consumer.
Neufeld explained how the current conditions for policy makers were both good and bad: “How much do you want to take a stick out to enforce a policy? That is not the ideal way… it is something that should be discussed and negotiated.
“But it’s not always negotiated. So how do we get that dialogue out there constructively and meaningfully, involving the industry when it’s the right moment to do that. And then let the industry step back, and say ‘okay policy makers, you need to get on with your job’. We haven’t found that balance yet.”
Eduardo Fargas Bolla, Head of VMHS International, Nestlé Health Science, reflected on the importance of the recognising the difference between a healthy diet and the dietary patterns of different regions.
He concluded: “We need to sit down at the table and be ready to promote nutrition using diet first, but at the same time using supplements as the tool that will complement that dietary pattern approach.
“Because in that specific country, you need to have the opportunity to utilise these types of supplements.”