FSA News Item, 3 July 2006
Agency Chair Deirdre Hutton has written to Ofcom in response to the independent communications regulator's consultation on options for tightening controls on the TV advertising of food to children. The Agency response was sent on Friday 30 June, in line with Ofcom's extended deadline.
[See below for the text of the letter]
The FSA Board had, at its open meeting on 15 June, expressed disappointment at the options put forward in the Ofcom consultation. The Board agreed that none of the options provided a sufficient response to the problem of the imbalance in television advertising of food to children.
Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the Food Standards Agency, said in her official letter to Ofcom that the Agency supports ‘a pre-9pm watershed ban on advertisements for food high in fat, salt or sugar, as we consider this offers a practical means of extending protection to older age groups, which is consistent with other broadcasting controls'.
The letter makes clear that the Agency could not support any approach that would restrict the advertising of healthier foods because this would be in direct conflict with efforts to promote healthy eating to children.
The letter also pointed out the Agency's concern that only one of the options set out in the Ofcom consultation document uses the Agency's nutrient profiling model.
The nutrient profiling model was developed to provide Ofcom with a tool for categorising foods on the basis of their nutrient content and help in its work to reduce the amount of advertising directed at children for foods high in saturated fat, sugar or salt.
Text of Letter to Chairman of Office of Communications (Ofcom) – 29 June 2006
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to this consultation. The Agency is extremely concerned about the imbalance in many children's diets and the effect this can have on their health and wellbeing, and welcomes Ofcom's engagement with this crucial public health issue. We recognise that TV ads are one of a range of influences on children's diets and that Ofcom's actions are necessarily part of a wider programme of work to encourage healthier lifestyles.
We are disappointed, however, with the three options set out in the consultation document. In our view none of them adequately addresses the issue. The evidence base on the impact promotional activity on children, as set out in the Agency commissioned Hastings review, included studies involving children aged 2-15 years, yet the emphasis in the consultation document is on protecting children aged nine years and younger. We consider that the action taken must also protect older children. We therefore support a pre 9pm watershed ban on advertisements for food high in fat, salt or sugar, as we consider this offers a practical means of extending protection to older age groups which is consistent with other broadcasting controls.
We are also concerned that only one of the options set out in the consultation document uses the Agency's nutrient profiling model to make sure the new restrictions only apply to advertising of foods high in fat, salt or sugar. We can not support any approach that would restrict the advertising of healthier foods as this would be in direct conflict with efforts to promote healthier eating to children. Furthermore, without the use of a nutrient profiling approach there is no incentive for industry to reformulate their products to reduce their fat, saturated fat, slat and/or sugar content.
Finally, I trust that any potentially viable ‘fourth option', which emerges during the consultation period will be subject to consultation with other interested parties before adoption.
I am copying this letter to Caroline Flint, Minister of State for Public Health, and Shaun Woodward, Minister for Creative Industries and Tourism. It will also be published on our website.
Dame Deidre Hutton