UK Food Watchdog Calls For Tough Marketing Curbs

16 March 2004

Britain's Food Standards Agency last week recommended tough new restrictions on the marketing of food and drink -- but stopped short demanding an outright ban on advertising to children.

The government watchdog has been investigating the effect of food marketing practices, especially on children, as it tries to tackle Britain's growing obesity problem. Its final policy recommendations include:

• New labelling to indicate amounts of fat, salt and sugar in foods.
• New guidelines for fat, salt and sugar levels. From March 2005, the FSA will test food products to see which ones are complying and publicly name those that are not.
• A review of the sponsorship of TV programmes, to be conducted by communications regulator Ofcom.
• The removal of vending machines branded with the logos of unhealthy snacks from schools and leisure centres.
• Use of celebrities to encourage healthy eating.
• An end to government endorsement of promotions that urge children to eat unhealthy food.

Conspicuous by its absence is a call for an outright ban on food advertising aimed at children. That said, the FSA did advocate "advising the broadcast regulator Ofcom, and the advertising industry, that action to address the imbalance in TV advertising of food to children is justified."

This was not enough for some campaigners. Sue Davies, policy advisor for the Consumers' Association, claimed the FSA had "lost an opportunity to take a strong stance on food advertising."

The ad industry gave the report a mixed reception. Advertising Association director-general Andrew Brown welcomed the chance to use advertising "as a force for good", but slammed the FSA report's focus on marketing curbs.

"The FSA recommendations," he commented, "are weighted towards short-term responses that are regulatory or restricting and are unlikely to have any sustained benefits with little mention of the steps necessary to implement the changes in attitudes required."

The government has yet to determine its final policy. Following the FSA report, public health minister Melanie Johnson told MPs on the select committee for health that she is still undecided on advertising curbs.

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff