June 4th, 2021 by Melissa Sweet. From Inside Story.

Manufacturers of unhealthy products aren’t letting the crisis go to waste; how covid-19 pandemic and the pandemic of unhealthy products go hand in hand. 

When public health advocates put out a call last July for examples of unhealthy industries seeking to capitalise on the disruption, they received several hundred documented examples from more than ninety countries.

These showed how alcohol, tobacco, fossil fuel, gambling and ultra-processed food companies had used the pandemic to promote corporate goals, whether through marketing and sales, influencing government policy, or generating positive publicity using philanthropic and other “corporate social responsibility” initiatives, or CSRs. (The latter have less flatteringly been dubbed “crisis washing.”) The pandemic has created new opportunities for companies to meet with politicians and policymakers by positioning themselves as partners of governments, health agencies and charities.

These findings come in a report, showing how often unhealthy industries sought to associate their products with the work of health professionals, emergency services and other frontline workers during the pandemic. 

We find many examples, from a McDonald’s campaign offering healthcare workers a free “thank you meal” if they shared a selfie of themselves with the meal. For each selfie, the franchise promised a meal coupon to the local food bank. To Russia, where Heineken’s local subsidiary donated meals and its energy drink to doctors and nurses on night shift. In Adelaide, Lifeline used social media to thank Red Bull Australia for the “surprise delivery [of energy drinks] to help keep our Crisis Supporters energised as they answer calls for support.”

Alcohol companies in several countries created branded masks, and the report contains many more examples and warns that its findings “raise concerns about the prospect of a corporate capture of Covid-19 in which the involvement of unhealthy commodity industries in the pandemic response risks directing public policy efforts away from broader health and social goals and towards the entrenchment of industry interests.”

Lucy Westerman, one of the report’s co-authors described one “particularly tasteless” marketing example from Brazil. There, brewer Karsten created a graphic in the style of their logo to resemble a pair of lungs, with the slogan “Good beer is like air: you can’t live without it,” and encouraged consumers to follow three key tips to survive with Karsten — isolate, use sanitiser and drink beer for fun.

On a more positive note, Westerman also points to how the pandemic has helped increase awareness of these diseases’ toll, with some governments stepping up efforts to tackle their causes. Some Mexican cities have banned the sale of junk foods to children, while the British government is taking serious steps to tackle obesity and South Africa has restricted tobacco and alcohol sales during lockdown.

Similar concerns about the alcohol industry’s efforts to exploit the pandemic were raised in An Alcohol Ad Every 35 Seconds, a report who found that the marketing messages used during the pandemic have encouraged people to buy more alcohol, drink to cope, drink daily and drink at home or alone. Caterina Giorgi, FARE’s chief executive, tells that the industry has also used the pandemic as an excuse to press for favourable policy changes and lobby against regulation. Yet the pandemic has also underscored the need for measures to reduce the lobbying power of the industry.

To read the full article, click on the following link: https://insidestory.org.au/the-twin-pandemics/?fbclid=IwAR0iOaHxgjPn9IMDitl-ufGxcLEBPAm1uSX3dPIGdagE9lDaeQFxIoq5N5A

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