Senior marketers from Australia's food manufacturing industry met Wednesday for the first time with the Federal Government's anti-obesity task force.

Their agenda: to counter the growing consumer and political pressures - already sweeping Europe and the USA - for curbs on junk-food ads. And at the same time take constructive action on the obesity pandemic afflicting the developed world.

Among the ideas bandied at the meeting were the formation of a specialist centre to study the issue of child-directed advertising, and a public charter with advertising guidelines to which food companies can sign up.

The UK food industry has until 2007 to curb advertising and promotions targeting kids, while in mainland Europe no such generosity has been extended to marketers who have just one year to get their act together. There are also likely to be new regulations governing the labelling of food products.

And in the US, food and beverage marketers are increasingly facing large scale legal action over advertising, food and obesity issues.

To date, however, Australia's Federal government has taken a benign attitude toward the advertising of snacks and high-fat food products, worth an estimated A$200 million (US$156.38m; €120.35m; £83.27m) annually. Few manufacturers and ad agencies, however, are naïve enough to believe this situation will last much longer.

Said a mole reportedly 'close' to the ongoing talks: "The key word is responsible. If we show that we can be responsible in our advertising, then the Government will not feel the need to step in."

On a separate but related issue, the government is currently reviewing guidelines that prohibit health claims being made about manufactured food. It does so at the behest of the Australian Food and Grocery Council which wants freedom for its members to make such assertions in their product marketing.

Data sourced from Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff