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Industry fights bill on food ad watershed

By Laura Crowley , 18-Feb-2008

The UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF) is opposing a private members bill that pushes for a 9pm watershed on advertising unhealthy foods, condemning it as 'disproportionate' and 'contradictory'.

 

Advertising restrictions are currently being implemented in the UK, preventing manufacturers of HFSS foods (high in fat, sugar and salt) advertising their products around programmes that are aimed at children. A Which? survey released in 2006 looked a viewing figures to find the most popular programmes with children are ones that are not actually aimed at them. Now, MP Nigel Griffiths has brought forward the proposal to introduce a watershed. But Luke Gibbs, public affairs consultant at FDF, said there is no evidence to show that such a bill would prove a success. "The advertising restrictions brought into place in April 2007 have been assessed by an independent body to be working, mean companies are not advertising HFSS foods to children during programmes aimed at them," he told FoodNavigator.com. "Further restrictions would just be overly onerous and would achieve very little in reducing obesity." According to an Ofcom report published last December, the advertising of unhealthy food and drink products fell 20 per cent between April 2005 and September 2007, driven by a 59 per cent decline during children's airtime. The drop in impacts has been greater amongst children aged between four and nine. Gibbs said the private members bill undermines the current processes in place in the UK, and raises questions over the future of independent regulatory bodies. He also said that the programmes found to be popular with children by the Which? report were entertainment shows with a largely adult audience, while previous regulations had been aimed at programmes with a young audience majority. Furthermore, the Ofcom report found there has been an increase in exposure to advertising of HFSS foods during 'adult' airtime, driven by the growing popularity of non-terrestial channels, and increased exposure on them. Entertainment channels are driving the increase in exposure to HFSS advertising on non-terrestial channels. With an increase in digital viewing and parliament pushing for a digital switchover, more people are moving away from watching television in the traditional terrestrial linear fashion. If this continues, advertising restrictions may become redundant. Gibbs said: "It is ironic that while calling for greater advertising restrictions, parliament is pushing for the very technology that makes it very difficult to regulate television." FDF has started lobbying Parliament to mobilise opposition to the bill in conjunction with the Advertising Association and ISBA. Over the next few weeks there will be a push to encourage MPs to support its position when the bill comes up for second reading on 25 April. As part of his own strategy, Griffiths has placed an early day motion (EDM) with 120 signatories with the aim of garnering support for his proposals. FDF is in the process of having an opposing EDM placed. The first phase of the restrictions, relating to advertising of HFSS foods around programmes aimed at the under-10s came into force last April. The second stage, prohibiting such advertisements 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, came into force on January 1. According to the Department of Health, statistics from the 2005 Health Survey for England showed 18 per cent of children aged between two and five in England were classified obese in 2005 (body mass index over 30) - an increase from 11 per cent and 12 per cent for boys and girls respectively in 1995.

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