FDF slams 'over the top' food ad ban

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Advertising Nutrition

The UK's Food and Drink Frederation (FDF) has slammed stringent new
restrictions on TV food and drink advertising.

It claims that advertising watchdog Ofcom's decision to impose a total ban on high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) food and drink advertisements in and around all programmes of particular appeal to children under the age of 16, broadcast at any time of day or night on any channel, as "over the top"​.

"We are shocked that after a lengthy consultation Ofcom has moved the goalposts,"​said the FDF director general Melanie Leech.

"This issue has always been about advertising to young children and industry responded on that basis with a package of strong measures designed to meet the governments objective.

"We will of course be responding to the latest consultation but have strong concerns that the proposed regulations are over the top."

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.

But the industry 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, and industry bodies such as the FDF have argued that the food industry should be given the opportunity to act responsibly.

It is no secret that Ofcom has supported the idea of mandatory regulation. But the decision to target regulation to ensure the protection of the under-16s as opposed to the under-9s, as first proposed will still come as a shock to many in the food industry.

"Whilst we need to look at the detail, it seems that they will intrude into the evening schedule and be an unnecessary curb on adult viewing; Ofcoms own figures show that adults outnumber under 16s by nine-to-one during terrestrial programming between six pm and nine pm,"​ said Leech.

"The debate around this important issue has been based on high emotions and subjective opinions rather than a sensible dialogue about how we can tackle childhood obesity. Advertising is only a very small part of this debate. While important, any new restrictions wont provide a quick fix solution to the problem."

Ofcom disagrees. It claims that under this package of measures, in households where childrens viewing includes a large number of programmes targeted at adults as well as programmes for children and young people, children under 16 would see 41 per cent fewer HFSS food and drink advertisements.

For under-9s the reduction would be 51 per cent.

There would also be greater reductions in digital television households where childrens programmes, dedicated childrens channels and programmes of particular appeal to under-16s make up a growing share of viewing by the young.

"Based on the evidence and analysis we believe the case for intervention is clear,"​ said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.

"We will introduce significant but proportionate measures to protect children under 16. We will look to advertisers and broadcasters to follow both the spirit as well as the letter of the rules we are putting in place."

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). However, 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."

Ofcom 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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