GENEVA May 19 Unhealthy diets pose a greater
risk to global health than the increasingly regulated sale of
tobacco and governments should move fast to tax harmful food
products, a United Nations investigator said on Monday.
In a statement issued on the opening of the annual summit of
the World Health Organisation (WHO), Belgian professor Olivier
de Schutter called for efforts to launch negotiations on a
global pact to tackle the obesity epidemic.
"Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health
than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate the
risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets
must now be agreed," he said.
De Schutter, who has held his post of special rapporteur on
the right to food since 2008 and earlier headed the Paris-based
International Federation of Human Rights, reports to the U.N.
Human Rights Council in Geneva.
In 2005, a U.N. convention on tobacco control aimed at
reducing deaths and health problems caused by the product went
into force after long negotiations under the umbrella of the
In a report to the rights council in 2012, de Schutter said
a similar accord on food should include taxing unhealthy
products, regulating food high in saturated fats, salt and
sugar, and "creacking down on junk food advertising."
That report also called for an overhaul on the system of
farm subsidies "that make certain ingredients cheaper than
others", and for support for local production "so that consumers
have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods."
In his Monday statement, issued through the office of the
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, de Schutter said any
attempts to promote better diets and combat obesity "will only
work if the food systems underpinning them are put right.
"Governments have been focussing on increasing calories
availability, but they have often been indifferent to what kind
of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are made
available, and how they are marketed."
Such measures, he declared, "are essential to ensure that
people are protected from aggressive misinformation campaigns."
(Reported by Robert Evans; Editing by Toby Chopra)