EU report slams food industry’s “ineffective” self regulation

The food industry is under fire for its “chaotic” attempts to self regulate “junk food” marketing to children.

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A European Union (EU) funded report by the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASA) is calling on member states’ governments to do more to regulate marketing in the food industry and make health a priority.

The “A Junk-Free Childhood: Responsible standards for marketing foods and beverages to children” report claims that the intense competition in the food and drink sector is leading to large numbers of adverts and promotions targeting children, despite promises from industry leaders that marketing to children would decrease.

Dr Tim Lobstein, the author for the report, says that there is no consistency over which foods are being promoted to children, when advertising can be broadcast on TV, the use of technology or how the internet should be regulated, which means that there is very little control over what children are exposed to.

Disagreements were also found across the industry over how brands are portrayed in advertising games and the use of toys and brand characters such as Kellogg’s Frosties’ Tony the Tiger.

McDonald’s recently came under fire in the US for the use of its Ronald McDonald character in advertising.

Dr Lobstein says: “The situation is chaotic. The food industry is highly competitive and a company will always put its own interests first. The children’s food market is worth billions of Euros and the struggle for access is tantamount to civil war in the food industry. In this context self-regulation is ineffective and only serves to defer proper controls.”

“The European Commission’s approach is too soft. We need standards for marketing to children to be set by governments, not industry, and for health to be the priority, not market expansion.”

The report’s approach, however, is questioned by ISBA, which represents the industry’s advertising in the UK, and says that businesses, government and society have to work together.

Ian Twinn, ISBA’s director of public affairs, says that contrary to what the report implies, the UK has very effective self-regulation through the HFSS and CAP Code regulations that have reduced the amount of TV advertising that children see.

“We as businesses and advertisers can play a part in the health agenda just as we can in the UK through Change4Life. We can advise governments but it only works if there is a shift in the way that consumers live and behave. That is what British business is trying to do,” he says.

He adds that by dismissing what the European Commission has achieved in minimising children’s exposure to junk food advertising in partnership with business, the IASA is showing its “blinkered” outlook.

Earlier this week the Department of Health announced that Sian Jarvis, director general of communications and credited as architect of the Change4Life strategy to combat obesity, is to leave.

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