Public health minister Caroline Flint this week said she would not budge on the government’s early 2007 deadline to decide whether to legislate on food promotion to children.
The government’s Choosing Health White Paper states this is the date by which measures in relation to the balance of food and drink advertising and promotion to kids and their effect on preferences would be judged to see if they had produced change.
If not the government would consider regulation.
Speaking at a seminar organised by The Grocer, and sponsored by Eversheds, to mark the first anniversary of the White Paper, Flint said: “The review is in 2007 and I intend to stick to this timetable. I know this is a challenge but when I say we are working to achieve this without legislation then I believe it is something that is achievable.”
Suppliers say the early 2007 deadline does not give them enough time to develop new advertising and see if it works. They are still awaiting advice from Ofcom, which is yet to begin its investigation into what food should and should not be advertised to children, based on the point-scoring model produced by the FSA’s work on nutrient profiling.
Jeremy Preston, of the Food Advertising Unit, told 130 representatives from retailing, manufacturing and advertising companies, government agencies and the Department of Health, that the slippage of deadlines made it very difficult for companies to meet the challenge. “If there is a huge strategic shift in advertising it takes 18 months, while even a shift in execution takes nine months,” he said.
The nutrient profiling model is one of two major rows between government and industry in an otherwise burgeoning spirit of co-operation over the nation’s health. Delegates accused the FSA model of being scientifically questionable.
“The model the FSA has come up with is, we believe, scientifically flawed, highly subjective and possibly unsafe. If Ofcom is forced to accept this model it will prove to be an embarrassment to both it and the government,” said Gavin Neath, Unilever UK chairman and president of the Food and Drink Federation.
And Preston asked: “Is Ofcom totally confident that the FSA’s model is right and that of industry nutritionists is wrong?”
FSA deputy chair Julia Unwin said the agency had looked into claims six months ago that the model was flawed.
But she strongly requested that industry get in touch with the agency formally if they still had concerns about the science.
The other key issue was front-of-pack signposting.
The FSA’s favoured multiple traffic light system is unlikely to be adopted by an industry that favours a GDA approach.
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Siân Harrington