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Headlines > Legislation

UK backs voluntary approach to food ads

By Anthony Fletcher , 15-Nov-2006

The UK's minister for public health has reaffirmed the government's "commitment to work in partnership with industry on key areas such as advertising, labelling and education".

Speaking at the Food Advertising Unit (FAU)'s annual conference entitled marketing food and health: a changing media landscape, Caroline Flint MP said that a voluntary approach or, in the case of Ofcom, a mandatory approach was the most desirable option.

This, she said, would be preferable to the government having to legislate.

 

The food industry has been under great pressure over advertising to children. A recent two-year UK study for example called for tighter restrictions on advertising junk foods in order to properly tackle obesity.

 

The University of Sussex report said that improvements in health education are not sufficient to tackle the crisis in Europe, and recommended a raft of initiatives including a restriction on the marketing and advertising of certain categories of food and drink, especially to children and young people.

 

The industry however has consistently argued that a ban is not the answer.

 

Speaking at the recent CIAA Congress in Brussels, Unilever CEO Patrick Cescau said that the best approach was still self-regulation.

 

"But the right to self-regulate has to be earned," he added. " I'm not convinced that citizens and legislators feel that we can be trusted to regulate ourselves. We need to prove them wrong by tightening our codes and enforcing them rigorously."

 

The FAU was therefore heartened to hear that the minister recognised that advertising was not the only - or major - factor in rising levels of obesity. Media spend has shifted from children to their parents, and there was significantly less targeting of children by food manufacturers in 2005 than in 2002.

 

Flint also confirmed that she did not support a complete ban on advertising to children and wanted to marshal advertising creativity. There is an opportunity for better marketing to children to make healthier brands more cool to kids so that they do not view healthy living as nerdy, she said.

 

Andrew Brown on behalf of the Food Advertising Unit welcomed the ministers comments, and reminded the conference of the original instruction from the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP, to Ofcom stating that a ban on advertising would be disproportionate.

 

Whilst it is true that children watch programmes in adult and family airtime, they actually represent a very small proportion of the total audience," he said. "A pre-9pm watershed ban, as demanded by the Food Standards Agency and Consumer Groups, would be completely disproportionate and tantamount to a complete ban."

 

The Food Advertising Unit (FAU), which operates under the auspices of the UK Advertising Association, represents multinational food companies, advertising agencies and the media.

 

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