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Is it harsh? Is it fair? No it's a consumer watchdog

Related tags Nutrition

In 1993, it seemed superheroes had reached their lowest peak when
Superman was slain by an unstoppable monster known as "Doomsday".

However, fourteen years on, and some of the world's most popular cartoon characters now face an entity more relentless than any intergalactic monster - the consumer watchdog. Last week Which? released a report claiming that superheroes and cartoon characters are being exploited to encourage kids to clamour for foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. The consumer advocacy organisation suggested that they should be ousted from junk food packaging and promotions. But in a debate where the industry says it is acting responsibly, are campaigns like Which?'s really for the greater good of kids' nutrition, or simply a case of maniacal headline grabbing? Sure, Which?'s core aims are consumer protection, but the organisation also aims to highlight issues that are not being properly addressed by business and authorities. Wouldn't the group's effort be better spent, therefore, on finding a solution to the current divide in nutrition labelling that is behind the arguments over junk food advertising? Just how, then, is a healthy diet to be defined, obviously beyond the unrealistic aim of cutting out all high sugars, fats and salts in food and beverages? Debate has been raging in the UK over the best way to inform consumers about the nutritional content of their food, as part of the battle against rising obesity rates. The food industry has already pitted itself against the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and its "traffic light"​ scheme by persisting with a "Guideline Daily Amounts" (GDA) system for calories, sugar, fat and salt. Major food companies including Danone and Kraft have signed up for the GDA system. Which?'s latest "Food Fables"​ report centred on letters sent out to 11 UK companies that licence cartoon characters and five food companies that use their own cartoon characters on foods. "Overall most companies that use, own and license the cartoons used on foods high in fat, sugar and salt are still failing to acknowledge the need for effective action,"​ the report concluded. This judgement was based around the FSA nutrient profiling scheme that underlies "traffic light" labelling as the benchmark. This decision in itself has come in for criticism by the industry as being "unscientific". As such, it seems bizarre to be having an argument over barring characters on packaging for food, when industry and government remain divided over how the issue of nutrition labelling should be handled. Which? after all conceded that when it came to using children's characters for promotions, not all the companies were "baddies". The BBC, Co-op, Disney and Warner Brothers were amongst those licensors said to have "responsible policies"​ in place, according to the report. Even companies signalled out for criticism in the report, including cereal giant Kellogg and McDonalds, were found to be taking some action. The report said that the companies had: "made some steps in the right direction, but their policies are limited in scope". ​But if Batman or the Simpsons were tomorrow found to be the new face of broccoli, would children otherwise not be interested in the product flock to eat it? I think not. As with any issue related to children, parents and guardians need to be fully informed, and this can surely only be achieved in a solid system for nutrition labelling. ​After all wasn't it Aristotle who said: "With great power comes great responsibility"​? Come to think of it, that was Spider-man. Neil Merrett is a staff reporter for BeverageDaily.com, and has written on a variety of issues for publications in both theUKandFrance.If you would like to comment on this article, please e-mail Neil.Merrett 'at' decisionnews.com

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