Industry calls on Boris Johnson to extend consultation on banning online ads for high fat and sugar ranges

The UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has joined major brands including Mars Wrigley, Mondelez International, Haribo and pladis in calling on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to extend government consultation on banning online advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt, writes Neill Barston

As reported by Confectionery Production, the move announced earlier this month, offered a period of just six weeks for seeking public and sector views until the end of 2020 on potential plans to cut web-based ads – which industry argues is insufficient amid the major challenges of the ongoing pandemic and key Christmas trading period.

However, the urgency of the consultation comes in the wake of major concerns over an obesity crisis, with fears that being overweight is a direct risk factor in severe cases of covid-19. According to research this summer from Public Health England, the government-backed body that is shortly to be replaced, it estimated that having a BMI of 35 to 40 could increase a person’s chances of dying from coronavirus by 40%, while a BMI greater than 40 could increase the risk by 90%.

In its response to the situation, a joint industry letter signed by major confectionery and snacks groups that also included Unilever, KP Snacks and Associated British Foods, the sector called on the Prime Minister to offer a greater period of consultation.

They also highlighted the fact that the sector is already engaged with reformulated product ranges, and that the government consultation needed greater clarity on the products covered in its study, which appeared to cover everything from chocolate through to sausage rolls.

The statement, which was signed by several key figures including FDF chief executive Ian Wright, read: “The UK Government is quite correctly committed to evidence-based policy making. However, the evidence base underpinning these proposals is lacking in both detail and efficacy. Additionally, there is still no agreed definition of which foods the Government is including in these proposals.

“They are so broad they even capture family favourites from chocolate to peanut butter to sausage rolls. As some of the UK’s leading advertisers, the food and drink industry agree that products high in fat, salt or sugar should not be targeted at children. Advertisers use sophisticated online tools, which they have demonstrated to government repeatedly, to aim their advertisements at adult audiences. Why has the Government chosen to disregard this evidence?

“Consumers frequently visit brand websites or engage via social media to find out more about products, especially when new healthier items are launched that have been reformulated. We have been shocked that the proposed advertising restrictions will police how producers describe their products on their own websites and social media channels, despite previous assurances that the Government had no interest in doing this.”

The industry letter concluded that it stressed a desire to work in partnership to assist in tackling obesity, but believed an urgent re-think of the consultation timeline was required to enable an adequate industry response. It said that it would be happy to meet the government to discuss key issues including reducing children’s exposure to advertising.


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