Big Food gives big commitment to curtail ads to kids

Some advocates complain, say the junk-food initiative doesn't go far enough

EUROPE Major food companies — including Kellogg, Coca Cola, Danone and General Mills — have signed a self-regulatory accord to cease advertising 'junk food' to children under 12, to avoid falling afoul of increasingly tough European laws.

Eleven companies, representing more than 50 per cent of the food and beverage advertising spent in the 27-member European Union, have agreed not to advertise foods and beverages that don't meet certain nutritional criteria on TV, in print or on websites where children under 12 could be considered a target audience.

They also agreed not to engage in any commercial communications related to food and beverage products in primary schools, except where specifically requested by or agreed to by the school administration for educational purposes; to publish company commitments on a dedicated website ( in the course of 2008; and to commission independently verified compliance monitoring of the advertising commitment on TV, print media and the Internet, beginning in January 2009.

However, the accord has drawn criticism because the companies have given themselves until the end of 2008 to implement the changes, and the nutritional criteria remains somewhat undefined as each company can set its own guidelines that are meant to be based on national and international nutrition standards.

"It's not a one-size-fits-all marketing code," said one food company.

UK-based consumer advocacy group, Which?, said the action did not go far enough. "It is encouraging that these food companies are recognising the need to curb their unhealthy marketing practices, but their pledge is too limited in scope — both in terms of the age of the children and types of promotions covered," said chief policy advisor, Sue Davies. "It covers children up to 12, while Ofcom has already recognised the need for restrictions to protect children up to 16 in the UK.? The group needs to redefine the scope of its criteria so that its measures cover the media that most children are actually using."

Other companies to sign up include Burger King, Ferrero, Kraft, Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever.

The UK introduced its own rules last April that saw restrictions placed on when foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) could be advertised on TV. In essence these foods could not be advertised during, before or after programmes aimed to children aged four to nine. The regulation's scope was increased in January 2008 to include all TV programmes aimed at children under the age of 16.

A similar self-regulatory scheme was established in the US in 2006, when Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup, Coca Cola, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's, PepsiCo, Unilever, Masterfoods, Burger King and ConAgra agreed to a similar initiative as that of their European counterparts.

Via the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative was established to scrutinise advertising and ensure it was meeting nutritional guidelines. Members also agreed to promote healthier eating and lifestyle options for children.

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