E-Drug: Indian Universities and Nestle
[Not really related to essential medicines but of relevance to those involved
in promotion of breastfeeding and conflicts of interest. Please fix long URLs
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THE TIMES OF INDIA, 24th January 2011
MNC in secret pact with universities for food education
Rema Nagarajan, TNN, Jan 24, 2011, 02.12am IST
Four public-funded national universities have entered into a
"confidential" pact with Nestle, one of the biggest baby food and
commercial food companies, for nutrition awareness programmes for
adolescent school-going girls in government-run village schools.
Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) has written a letter
to the secretary for school education and literacy, Anshu Vaish,
protesting against "brand promotion using the public education system"
and saying that the MoU (memorandum of understanding) was a clear case
of conflict between public and corporate interests.
Nestle signed an MoU with Punjab Agricultural University (PAU)
Ludhiana; National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal, Haryana;
University of Mysore in Karnataka; and the GB Pant University for
Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand. Under the MoU,
Nestle staff along with the faculty of these universities launched a
nutrition education programme. This joint initiative was launched in
April 2009 by minister of state for rural development Agatha Sangma
along with Nestle India chairman Helio Waszyk.
The MoU signed with PAU states: "This MoU, its existence and all
information exchanged between the parties under this MoU or during the
negotiations preceding this MoU is confidential to them and may not be
shared with a third party." In keeping with this condition, PAU
refused to give information when an RTI application was filed seeking
information about the MoU and the details of the nutrition education
The head of the department of nutrition in PAU, Dr J K Sangha, wrote
to Nestle seeking its opinion on the RTI application for information
and copies of documents pertaining to the MoU. In his reply dated July
1, 2010, the senior manager of corporate affairs in Nestle, Ajay Pal
Singh Kang, wrote back stating: "We wish to inform you that all
contents of the programme being conducted jointly by PAU and Nestle
India have been specially developed by scientists and experts to be
used exclusively to carry out the set objectives of the MoU. The
contents of the programme are of commercial and confidential nature
and the disclosure of which may harm our competitive position."
Therefore, we are constrained to decline our consent for the supply or
disclosure, to any third party, of any information or document
pertaining to this joint collaboration."
"Why should a national university have to take the permission of a
private company to give information under the RTI Act? They are
duty-bound to provide the information. After all, what is so secretive
about the contents of a nutritional programme? They have sold their
autonomy and independence as a national institution to a corporate
entity for a paltry sum of Rs 2.5 lakh, the sum Nestle is paying PAU
for this project," said Dr Arun Gupta, of BPNI.
The letter to the secretary questioned how a food corporation could
use a public-funded institution for the promotion of their brand. "We
believe that such sponsorship of education of adolescent girls who are
future mothers will inevitably be biased towards the nutrition
products of the company which comprise of breast milk substitutes,
baby foods and instant snacks among others," stated the letter. BPNI
wrote another letter on the same issue to HRD minister Kapil Sibal. So
far, there has been no response from the government.
Himanshu Manglik, communications manager of Nestle, when contacted,
said that the nutrition education programme was a very good one and
that the company had nothing to hide and was willing to share the
contents of the programme with anyone who was interested.
Dr Gopal Dabade,
Dharwad 580 002