EU Regulators reiterate support for EU Pledge


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On 19 June, An industry panel took place in Brussels hosted by the European Snack Association (ESA) on the topic of Promotion of Foods to Children- what has been achieved and will our ambitions take us far enough and fast enough? The panellists for the discussion were:

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, Member of European Parliament (Christian Democrats, Sweden), Member of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection

Despina Spanou, Principal Advisor DG SANCO; and Chair, EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health and the High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity

Will Gilroy, Director of Communications, World Federation of Advertisers

The debate focused on reviewing industry progress to date and assessing how these match up to EU political expectations, within the context of the global public health agenda.

• Ms. Spanou outlined the European Union's approach to nutrition and obesity, focusing on the role that “HFSS” (high fat salt sugar) foods and non-alcoholic beverages play, with specific emphasis on advertising and marketing. Key points:
  • The issue of food marketing is key in the debate about childhood obesity. “Advertising to children is everywhere” and “you can't control it as a parent”
  • The EU Platform has made good progress. Highlights of significant industry commitments include: funding of breakfast clubs for children; efforts on reformulation with EU-wide targets for fat and salt reduction; the EPODE programme; and the EU Pledge.
  • The EU Pledge is an “innovative” programme “found nowhere else in the world” (in terms of how it is implemented and monitored). It is an “example of going in the right direction”; “not a substitute for legislation, but it does limit children's exposure”
  • The Commission “does not intend to let this [progress made through voluntary commitments] go”, but to “take it further”.
  • It is too early to judge the application of Article 9.2 of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive – the clause compelling the Commission and Member States to encourage codes of conduct on HFSS food advertising to children at national level

• Ms. Corazza-Bildt spoke of the “parental pressure” that is created by the pervasiveness of food advertising. She called on industry to focus its efforts on marketing foods that are more nutritious and which are also appealing to children. At the same time, she expressed strong support for self-regulation, as industry must be involved in solving the problems for solutions to be effective. Key points:
  • “Targeted, aggressive, misleading advertising [of foods to children] is totally unacceptable.” But the problem cannot be regulated away; industry needs to be part of the solution and own the tools to address the problem.
  • Believes in “consumer empowerment and free consumer choice”, but when it comes to children, this is not enough; industry responsibility is key.
  • Digital marketing is the most difficult area to address; current negotiations on the revision of the EU Data Protection legislation are important with regard to “consent”, as the concept means nothing to children and parental consent must be required.
  • Food policy in the European Parliament is very ideologically driven. However, all recent reports (e.g. Juvin report on the impact of advertising, Triantaphyllides report on consumer policy, Irigoyen Perez report on vulnerable consumers) point to : (a) the need to see children as vulnerable consumers; and (b) the need for the Commission to study the issue in more depth and review if current approaches are sufficient.
  • The EU Platform, the EU Pledge and the Consumer Goods Forum commitments on responsible food marketing are “great achievements”. She particularly welcomed the enhanced audience threshold (from 50% to 35% of under 12s) and the commitment on in-school marketing in the EU Pledge.
  • Robust implementation measures and independent monitoring are essential. Results need to be communicated in a way that is “visible and easy to understand”. All this is key for trust building, which is “a long-term process that needs much better communication”.

• WFA's presentation explained the background of the EU Pledge, its key achievements, and how it fits into industry's vision for a balanced, proportionate and effective policy approach. The presentation delivered the key message that industry shares the central policy objective of the EU and WHO, but that this objective could not be met with crude measures such as advertising bans, while industry initiatives such as the EU Pledge, supported by a proportionate EU policy framework, were already delivering measurable, tangible and significant results.

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