UK Government given both barrels by FDF over advertising ban
The timeframe for the consultation has been called “frankly astounding” by the FDF, which has called for more detail in the proposal to ban advertising of unhealthy foods, as well as a meeting at Number 10 to discuss the way forward.
Has the UK Government rushed its proposal to ban junk food advertising?
Some of the UK’s leading food manufacturers have written an open letter to UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson, accusing him and his Government of disregarding evidence as it launched a public consultation on the banning of advertising unhealthy food.
If the proposal is made reality, then all manufacturers of food high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) would not be allowed to promote their products online. The Government says children are exposed to 15 billion HFSS adverts a year, claiming that this can impact on long-term food preferences as well as encouraging the amount of HFSS food children eat in the short term.
It says that while the food industry supports the drive to healthier eating, it believes the current plan’s timeframe is far too short. The Government wants to introduce the advertising restrictions by the end of 2022, yet the consultation period is set to end in just six weeks. The FDF called this “frankly astonishing” – adding that the deadline did not give the industry sufficient time to respond.
The criticism didn’t end there. The FDF claims that its members use “sophisticated online tools” which direct HFSS ads at adults, rather than children (though it did not expand on what these were). The letter accuses the Government of disregarding this evidence, despite claims that it had been shown these tools “repeatedly”.
There is certainly a sense of betrayal felt by the FDF and food manufacturers. The letter claims that the food industry has played an “indispensable part in feeding the nation during the Covid-19 crisis” and states that “we are proud the public has experienced little disruption despite the very real and difficult conditions that we have faced.” To be hit with a potential piece of legislation that could change the entire industry after all of these efforts might have contributed to the ill feeling that is evident in their letter.
However, the Government insists that the measures proposed regarding advertising are the right ones to protect public health. Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “I am determined to help parents, children and families in the UK make healthier choices about what they eat.
“We know as children spend more time online, parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect eating habits for life.
“This will be a world-leading measure to tackle the obesity challenges we face now but it will also address a problem that will only become more prominent in the future.”
It claims that the UK public is behind advertising restrictions, with a supposed 72 percent backing the banning of HFSS adverts before 9pm on television, and 70 percent supporting a 9pm watershed online.
While the FDF does not dispute the Government’s approach to “evidence-based policy making”, it concludes that the evidence is “lacking in both detail and efficacy”. Under the current proposals, the FDF claims that ads for everything from chocolate to sausage rolls would be banned. It questions whether the Government really intends to ban a wedding cake business from displaying its products online.
There does appear to be a will to co-operate on this issue, however. The FDF concluded its letter by reinforcing its support to “drive a step change in obesity rates”, but it urged the Government to extend the deadline on the consultation. A meeting at Number 10 has also been requested, in order to discuss a solution that might suit both sides, and avoid complete bans and “other unnecessary restrictions”.