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UK launches junk food ad ban

By Jess Halliday and staff reporting , 02-Apr-2007

Stage one of controversial new restrictions on advertising of foods to children came into force in the UK this week, a move criticised as 'draconian' by the country's dairy industry.

The new rules mean adverts for foods considered high in fat,salt or sugar (HFSS) will not be permitted in or around programmes made for children (including pre-school children), or in or around programmes that are likely to be of particular appeal to children aged four to nine.


UK regulators and the food and advertising industries have hotly debated the issue of how much TV advertising is to blame for the current obesity crisis and whether ad restrictions are an appropriate way to curb it.


Presently 80 per cent of spending of food advertising within children's airtime is for HFSS foods - the term the FSA prefers to 'junk food'; and around a third of two to 15-year-olds in the UK are overweight or obese.


Still, dairy industry leaders have been particularly vocal in their opposition to advert restrictions, after it emerged cheese would be one of the foods banned.


"It is a nutritional nonsense to ban the advertising of cheese to children when overall balance and portion size are properly taken into account," said Ed Komorowski, technical director at industry association Dairy UK.


The list of foods included in the ban was drawn up according to the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) nutrient profiling model, already criticised by some for saying whole, semi-skimmed and flavoured milk have the same health value as diet fizzy drinks.


The FSA has agreed review the impact of the measure in 12 months' time. A spokesperson told DairyReporter sister site, FoodNavigator.com, that the review will investigate how the nutrient profiling model, under which foods that may be advertised are determined, works in practice.


"During development, the model was tested against 300 foods to ensure the results are consistent with the views of nutrition professionals, and with existing advise on healthy eating," said the FSA.


The agency has printed a rebuffal to claims its nutrient model is un-scientific, but criticism has remained. A major point of contention has been the agency's decision to leave out micronutrients like calcium and vitamins.


In the meantime, everyone in the food industry must deal with the current restrictions on adverts.


The regulation is being introduced in several stages.


From 1 January 2008, HFSS advertisements will not be permitted in or around programmes made for children (including pre-school children), or in or around programmes that are likely to be of particular appeal to children aged four to 15.


Children's channels will be allowed a graduated phase-in period, with full implementation required by the end of December 2008.


The move was originally conceived by advertising regulator Ofcom to restrict advertising around programmes of specific interest to the under-9s, and the extended to young people up to the age of 16 years has been a particular bone of contention.


Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) called the extension "over the top" and said Ofcom had "moved the goalposts". She said last November that the restrictions were likely to intrude into the evening schedule and be a curb on adult viewing.


Ofcom's co-regulatory partners, the Broadcast Committee on Advertising Practice (BCAP) and the Advertising Standards Authority, are responsible for implementing the new scheduling and content rules and securing compliance respectively. The new rules will form part of the BCAP Television Advertising Standards Code.

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