January 23, 2005

NEWS: EU bid to end junk food ads for children

EU bid to end junk food ads for children


THE food industry was warned today to stop advertising junk food to children within a year or face a clampdown.

The European Union may resort to legislation if the companies do not make sufficient efforts to tackle the problem.

EU health and consumer affairs commissioner Markos Kyprianou said urgent action was needed to tackle obesity in Europe, particularly with children.

He said Brussels would step in if the industry failed to regulate itself on the issue.

He said: "The signs from the industry are very encouraging, very positive.

"But if this doesn?t produce satisfactory results, we will proceed to legislation.

"I would like to see the industry not advertising directly to children any more."

Mr Kyprianou added that he wanted clearer food labelling "more easily understood by a consumer who doesn?t have a PhD in chemistry".

The Cypriot commissioner will announce the self-regulation plans in March, with standards expected to be met by this time next year.

The CIAA, the food industry?s umbrella group in Europe, said it was already working with the Commission to develop new proposals for more rigorous advertising and labelling regimes.

The group said it would be pressing for self-regulation rather than legislation.

The Government?s Public Health White Paper, published two months ago, promised to work with the industry to look at ways of reducing junk food adverts when children are watching TV.

Health Secretary John Reid said that they also wanted to introduce a clearer system of labelling so consumers know exactly what is in the food they are eating and allow them to make healthier choices.

The EU warning comes amid growing concern about the UK?s childhood obesity epidemic, with one in five boys and a quarter of girls aged two to 15 now overweight or obese.

It has been predicted that the present generation of youngsters could be the first to die at a younger age than their parents, as a result of the UK?s obesity epidemic.

New "traffic light" labelling to help consumers identify unhealthy foods on supermarket shelves in the UK is among measures being discussed in the white paper. Among other proposals to encourage children and teenagers to choose healthier eating options is a curb on TV advertising of junk food before a 9pm watershed.

Figures from media watchdog Ofcom show 70 per cent of viewing by children aged four to 15 takes place between 6pm and 9pm.

The white paper - which would apply north of the Border - recommends the voluntary traffic-light labelling scheme for foods, with unhealthy foods receiving a red label and healthy choices such as fruit and vegetables given a green label.

Supermarket chain Sainsbury?s has already launched its own coloured logos to signify healthier options.

The Sainsbury?s "wheel of health" symbol provides basic information about five nutritional factors - salt, fat, saturated fat, added sugar and calories - and was introduced to the chain on 30 of its own-label products this month.

Sainsbury?s came up with the scheme as an alternative to the "traffic light" labelling system following concerns by many in the food industry that the system to be proposed in the white paper is too simplistic and would demonise some products unnecessarily.

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