UK food ad ban a 'public health fudge'

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Ofcom, Advertising, Junk food

Food and advertising groups might be up in arms about stringent new
UK food ad regulations but some believe the measures don't go far
enough.

Philip Cullum, deputy chief executive of the National Consumer Council (NCC), claimed that Ofcom's plans to ban junk food TV ads around all programmes 'of particular appeal to children under the age of 16' should have gone further.

"These proposals dont get to the heart of the problem,"​ he said.

"70 per cent of children's viewing time is outside childrens airtime and Ofcom's proposed ban won't catch programmes like Coronation Street that are very popular with under-16s.

"NCC pressed for a ban on junk food TV ads before the 9pm watershed because it would capture programmes children are actually watching and reduce their exposure to such ads by 80 per cent. These proposals will cut childrens exposure to junk food TV ads by around 40 per cent only half as much."

Ofcom, the UK's advertising watchdog, announced on Friday that it would impose a total ban on high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) food and drink advertisements of particular appeal to children under the age of 16, broadcast at any time of day or night on any channel. The announcement of the new restrictions on food and soft drink advertising to children on TV is the culmination of a three-year debate on the role advertising plays in establishing eating habits.

And although industry groups such as the Advertising Association and the Food and Drink Federation have claimed that the new rules go well beyond creating more protection for primary school aged children, consumer groups have clearly gone the other way.

Which? for example has called Ofcom's proposals a 'public health fudge'.​, and demanded a 9pm watershed ban.

"Proposals announced by Ofcom today show that government intervention with a 9pm ban is now the only way to fully protect children from the influence of TV advertising of unhealthy foods,"​ said Which? director of communications and campaigns Nick Stace.

"While Which? is pleased that Ofcom is recognising that under 16s need to be protected from the effects of advertising and promotion, the announcement today is a missed opportunity to do this effectively.

"Which? research shows that many more children are watching TV throughout the evening rather than during specific childrens programming."

Ofcom said the new restrictions would cost broadcasters up to an estimated £39 million in lost advertising revenue.

"Ofcom itself has recognised the proposed measures won't fully protect under 16s as they will only reduce by 41 per cent their exposure to TV advertising of unhealthy foods,"​ said Stace. "A 9pm watershed is therefore the only answer."

Under Ofcom's proposals, restrictions will be targeted at food and drink products rated as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) according to the Nutrient Profiling scheme developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Food or drink products which are below FSA thresholds may be advertised without scheduling restrictions, providing an incentive for some manufacturers to reformulate existing products as well as to develop new products which are low in fat, salt and sugar.

But many in the food industry consider this profiling scheme to be highly arbitrary, rendering the establishment of a feasible and fair ban on junk food advertising impossible.

"The regulations will be based on a nutrient profiling model that is scientifically flawed,"​ said Leech. "Ofcom says the model will provide an incentive for manufacturers to reformulate products; this is absolutely not the case.

"Many manufacturers will have no incentive to innovate because they will not be able to leap the profiling hurdle."

The watchdog said that here would be a short and focused consultation to seek views on extending restrictions to protect these older children. This will close before Christmas with the final determination in January 2007.

Advertising campaigns already underway or in the final stages of creative execution at the end of January 2007 would be allowed to be broadcast until the end of June 2007.

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