Food :: British crackdown on junk food ads praised

Television advertising in the United Kingdom for foods high in fat, salt, or sugar will be reduced by up to 50 percent on programs viewed by children under 16 under tough new regulations promulgated by Ofcom, that country?s quasi-governmental telecommunications regulator.

While U.K. consumer groups will press the British parliament to enact tighter standards, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged multinational food companies to behave at least as well in the U.S. as they?ll soon be required to behave in the U.K.

?The new British regulations are far superior to the situation here, where the Federal Trade Commission continues to support a failed self-regulatory system,? said CSPI legal affairs director Bruce Silverglade. ?If food companies and the advertising industry can survive under the new British standards, they could certainly survive under similarly tough standards in the United States.?

In the U.S., the industry-funded Children?s Advertising Review Unit enforces a set of narrow technical guidelines, which unlike the new British rules, do not consider the nutritional quality of foods. Notably, CARU?s web site emphasizes that it works to preserve advertisers? ?freedom to direct their messages to young children.? Similarly, the National Advertising Review Council, CARU?s parent organization, states that its top goal is to ?minimize governmental involvement in the advertising business.? The Council of Better Business Bureaus, which oversees both organizations, is promoting a new initiative that merely requires food companies to pledge that 50 percent of their ads contain a message encouraging healthy diets or physical activity.

Since the Federal Trade Commission has indicated it won?t restrict food advertising on children?s television, CSPI has threatened litigation to protect kids from junk-food ads. Last year, CSPI, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and two Massachusetts parents announced that they may sue Kellogg and Viacom, owner of the kid-friendly Nickelodeon network, over their marketing practices. The potential plaintiffs are in negotiations with Kellogg, but not Viacom. Litigation is likely if agreeable settlements with one or both parties are not reached.

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