Radical Ruling Proposed on Food Advertising
Mark Sweney
February 20, 2007

The Committee for Advertising Practice is close to ratifying a plan that would see the introduction of advertising restrictions on all food and drink products in non-broadcast media - except for fruit and vegetables.

MediaGuardian.co.uk can reveal that the radical plan, raised in discussion at the Department of Health's food and drink advertising and promotion forum today, goes further than Ofcom's obesity reduction strategy that applies to TV ads only.

Ofcom has banned the advertising of junk food to children, determined by a nutrient-profiling model developed by the Food Standards Agency to identify products high in fat salt and sugar.

The extension of advertising restrictions to non-broadcast media - such as magazines, the internet, newspapers and billboards and cinema - is handled by CAP, the advertising industry's self-regulatory body.

CAP had planned to meet tomorrow to discuss whether to adopt the positioning - understood to be supported by the vast majority of its member groups - but the meeting has been postponed until Ofcom reports back on its final consultation on TV advertising.

CAP members almost universally disagree with the FSA's model of determining what is "junk" food on the basis that it is too inaccurate.

Under the system products such as raisins, certain types of honey, All-Bran, Marmite, cheese and Greek yoghurt would be banned, and on the other chicken nuggets, curry and plain white bread escape.

The simplified system CAP is looking at introducing would provide an exemption category - currently only fruit and vegetables - meaning that the likes of milk, water, low-fat yoghurt and mineral or pro-biotic drinks would be banned.

The proposed CAP system has not yet been agreed by all members.

The likes of the Newspaper Publishers Association states that it still believes that any translation of extending any ad restrictions to non-broadcast media is yet to be decided.

However, in July last year Andrew Brown, the then director general of the Advertising Association, voluntarily offered, on behalf of industry, to extend the proposed broadcast restrictions to non-broadcast media.

However, this was before Ofcom said it would look to extend restrictions to under-16s - it had initially been focussed on under 12s only - and that it would adopt the nutrient profiling model to identify "junk" food.

Mr Brown's offer related to the content of advertising.

Specifically, a ban on licensed characters - but not the likes of manufacturer's own icons such as Tony the Tiger - and the use of celebrities who overly appeal to young children.

Despite CAP's blanket ban proposal being more wide-ranging than the FSA's profiling system, campaigning groups are likely to be angered.

The move, if ratified, will be seen to undermine the FSA's system if it is not adopted across all media.

Ofcom is expected to come back within the next few days on its final consultation on TV advertising.

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