junk food on tv hfss

Health campaigners have accused advertising bosses of attempting to “water down” the government’s ban on junk food advertising, ahead of the delayed date for its introduction in October 2025.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched a consultation last month over the new regulations, including guidance on how they should be interpreted in practice by food and media companies, and setting out the range of products that would be covered by the government’s new 9pm watershed and online ban.

However, The Grocer understands campaign groups have raised serious concerns over the guidance, which they claim will allow junk food products to continue to be advertised to millions of viewers and internet users thanks to grey areas that could be exploited.

“There are loopholes big enough to drive a Coca-Cola truck through,” said one source, who added: “There is a lot of concern over this guidance, which seems to include exceptions which we believe are against the spirit of the government’s proposals and will leave the door open for advertisers to get round it.”

The new rules to restrict the advertising of ‘identifiable’ HFSS products on TV from 5.30am to 9pm and in paid-for ads online are due to come into force in October 2025, having twice been delayed by the government, along with other rowbacks on its public health policy.

The ASA’s guidance states ads for HFSS products will be banned if people can reasonably be expected to identify an ad as being for a specific product.

That includes ads that name a specific product in text or audio, or include images that identify them.

However, the authority says the rules will only apply if ads identify specific variants of products, and makes a distinction for ads that include potential variants.

“There’s a real danger the spirit of the law MPs have agreed on is going to be lost and that it’s going to be watered down in the technical details,” said a health lobby source.

“We have big questions over the issue of what is an identifiable product, and whether this means companies will be able to continue using ads if they use generic pictures of pizza, burgers and other HFSS foods.”

Campaigners are calling on the government to insist the guidance for companies follows the same route as Transport for London’s ban on junk food ads on its estate, which only allows ads for specific products from food and drink companies to avoid the use of generic brand ads from companies making HFSS products.

“There is a reason why TfL insists on that rule,” said the source.

They also claim the guidance fails to tackle the issue of out-of-home providers and services such as Deliveroo who provide deliveries for a raft of different HFSS brands, but whose ads could be allowed to continue unchecked if they don’t focus on specific products.

Recommendations allowing large companies to run ads “on behalf of” SMEs who are exempt from the government’s ban could also be exploited, it is claimed.

“The guidance appears to give the benefit of the doubt to the advertiser, not the public and children at risk of obesity,” said the source.

“We have witnessed before what can happen when the ASA consults with industry and fear there is too little government oversight of this process.

“The ASA is running a very short consultation, over eight weeks, two of which were taken up by Christmas. There is a fear the government is washing their hands.”

Last week Labour leader Keir Starmer repeated his commitment to ban junk food advertising, as he declared the party was “up for the fight in improving children’s health”.

Starmer also rejected criticism of “nanny state” policies, with other policies including plans to launch free breakfast clubs in primary schools. New research commissioned by Cavendish undertaken by YouGov this week found the majority of Labour MPs supported greater government intervention to reduce HFSS consumption, whilst only 18% of Tory MPs backed the idea. It also found 58% of the public would support either a tax or a ban on high-sugar products.