EU Health Commissioner says ban on advertising food to children "not needed"


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Health Commissioner John Dalli has rejected any move for the EU to impose restrictions on the advertising and marketing of foods high in fat, sugar or salt to children.

Dalli spoke out in a 23 July reply to a written question from Romanian Socialist MEP Daciana Octavia Sārbu - the third on the same theme the Commissioner pointed out.

This time Sārbu had asked about toys sold with fast-food products for children. The third of her three questions on the topic was: "Does the Commission believe that the advertising of products for children should be subject to more stringent rules, also with regard to the need to promote a healthy lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet?"

Dalli replied: "Advertising restrictions are not necessary as long as the industry is committed to responsible advertising. Industry should develop codes of conduct and public authorities should support these initiatives and intervene only if self-regulation is not effective."

The Commissioner went on to say that the EU's Audiovisual Media Services Directive supports the self-regulatory approach to food advertising for children. Member States must encourage audiovisual media service providers to develop codes of conduct in audiovisual commercial communications to children in terms of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, he said.

Dalli noted that television networks and other audiovisual media service providers joined Member States for a special workshop on codes of conduct last December and that the exercise will be continued at another on 25 October.

In the introduction to her three questions, Sārbu wrote, "Some fast-food outlets in the European Union promote the consumption of their products to children by associating them with toys. Children are tempted to eat these products because they are attracted to the toys, but it is well known that fast food consumed on a regular basis has adverse health effects."

She continued by arguing that in contrast to efforts being made in the EU to raise public awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle, "fast-food companies are carrying out aggressive marketing campaigns targeted at children. Children are a vulnerable category, because they are not in a position to take rational decisions, based on health risks, when it comes to choosing their food; they usually take such decisions on an emotional basis, or with the help of incentives offered by the various companies."

Sārbu noted that Silicon Valley in California is planning a law banning sales of fast foods with toys for children, justifying the move on public health grounds.

The MEP asked first: "Will the Commission assess, from the point of view of ethics and social responsibility, the child-oriented marketing techniques that are promoted by fast-food outlets?"

Before ending with the question on advertising restrictions, she then asked: "Is the Commission considering the possibility of banning offers that include toys with fast food?"

Source: EU Food Law, Issue: 447, Friday July 30 2010

Through initiatives such as the EU Pledge, WFA supports the work of responsible food and beverage companies in committing to implementing voluntary measures to change the nature of food marketing to children. For an analysis of how legislative developments across the globe and self-regulatory commitments may change the food marketing landscape in the future, click here. For more information please contact Will Gilroy.

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