Britain's food manufacturing industry, currently under siege over the peddling of unhealthy foods and beverages -- especially to children -- could be invited to participate in a Portman Group style initiative.

The Portman Group, a voluntary body funded by the alcohol industry, campaigns against the irresponsible promotion and consumption of liquor, wines and beers. The mooted food trade initiative is likely to operate in a similar way.

This is just one of a number of options under consideration by the Advertising Association's Food Advertising Unit, which recently enlisted the aid of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, the UK's largest advertising agency, whose clientele numbers such brands as Walkers snacks, Pepsi-Cola (both very much in the firing line because of their high-budget targeting of children) and supermarket giant J Sainsbury.

Other London agencies have also offered their services, among them DDB, Publicis, J Walter Thompson and McCann WorldGroup. All could be involved in the Portman-type venture.

Unlike the drinks industry, however, some in the food trade reportedly feel they should not alone bear the cost burden of fending off their critics. It is likely the government will be asked to share the expense of promoting healthy alternatives to the high-sugar, high-carbohydrate products currently dangled before Britons of all ages.

But insiders believe the government may prefer to paddle its own canoe up the river of public health and good nutrition, leaving commercial manufacturers to invest a smidgen of their substantial profits in protecting their own backyards.

Certainly, the department of culture, media and sport has yet to hand any such brief to COI Communications, the administrative interface between the British government and its roster of advertising and marketing agencies.

But the food trade and ad industry alike are on red alert.

Says an AA source: "At this very early stage, it's important that the industry is being seen to do it and that it is seen to be the catalyst for the initiative. We hope this will galvanise food advertisers. When you are staring down the barrel of a gun, it's more likely you'll set aside your differences. Just going on as we are is not an option."

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff