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Letter on ENN conflict of Interest, by Mary Lung'aho, Lida Lhotskha, and Rebecca Norton

Dear Editors,

The Field Exchange is a publication that never sits unopened for very long. It is always eagerly awaited and we, in our respective positions, make sure that our colleagues in the field are aware that a new issue is available. They always benefit from the information and experiences that you so well present in this publication. The same was about to happen when the July Issue 22 arrived. But we were stopped in our tracks.

And we are now writing to you jointly to bring to your attention a serious concern that this issue raised: conflict of interest.

On page 24-25, the issue gives a so-called "agency" profile, featuring Nutriset as a unique instance of a private sector company that provides "an ideal model for potential public and private sector partnerships". Our concern is not the semantics - whether a privately held, for-profit company should or should not be called an agency - but about using the Field Exchange as an advertising medium for one selected manufacturer of foodstuffs under the guise of an informational article. The Field Exchange has always been a publication that strives to give objective, high quality information and provide a platform for exchange of innovative ideas and experiences. To now promote rather than discuss a private sector entity and its products seems entirely inappropriate and disturbing, blurring the line between information and advertising. What message does this send to the field about impartiality of the publication, especially since the company's logo now also features high on the list of sponsors?

The Field Exchange has an obligation, when discussing a product, to not only provide accurate information about its uses and formulation, but also to discuss the implications of introducing and using the product in a field setting. Missing components in the discussion of the Nutriset products include issues of expense, creation of dependency and sustainability. Also missing is discussion of the use of alternatives to F100 and F75 based on oil, milk, sugar and cereal flour, with additional mineral and vitamin mixes. The Field Exchange is shared among many partners and countries, and read by all working in the fields of health and nutrition, not only by people involved in emergencies. Surely the issues of dependency and expense need to be raised to avoid putting across a controversial message regarding the universal need for such products.

As its very name suggests, the unique quality of the Field Exchange is the forum it provides for discussion of issues that impact practice in the field. Because the Nutriset article, as presented, failed to provide such a forum, we suggest that the Field Exchange balance the Nutriset promotion by eliciting experience from the field with these products and sharing them - good, bad, mixed - as a set of lessons from which we can all learn.

With best regards,

Rebecca Norton, Nutrition advisor, Fondation Terre des hommes, IBFAN.

Mary Lung'aho

Lida Lhotska, Regional Coordinator for Europe, IBFAN.

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Rebecca Norton, Mary Lung'aho and Lida Lhotska (2004). Letter on ENN conflict of Interest, by Mary Lung'aho, Lida Lhotskha, and Rebecca Norton. Field Exchange 23, November 2004. p15. www.ennonline.net/fex/23/lettersvarious

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