EU & Canada Focus Spotlight on Food Advertising

June 5, 2018

For the past several months, ANA has focused much of its advocacy efforts on new European regulations dealing with online privacy – namely the GDPR. However, it is becoming clear that the EU is not satisfied with stopping there in its attempt to broadly implement restrictive advertising regulations. New developments show that EU lawmakers and their counterparts in Canada are singling out the food marketing community to restrict their ability to reach customers through advertising.

In Great Britain, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan recently announced plans to ban ads for "unhealthy food and drink" in the London Underground, Overground, buses and bus shelters. The plan follows a similar move by Amsterdam, which has been banning “unhealthy” food advertising to children in metro stations since January. Additionally, the U.K. Parliament’s Health and Social Care Select Committee has called for a ban on "brand-generated characters or licensed TV and film characters" and “junk food” ads before the 9pm TV watershed in attempt the tackle childhood obesity rates. The Committee is also recommending that supermarkets be forced to remove unhealthy snacks from the end of aisles and checkouts, that price promotions for these foods be restricted, and that social media sites reduce children's exposure to “inappropriate” advertising and marketing, including advergames.

In the Netherlands, the food industry has agreed to stop using "kids idols" (licensed media characters) on packaged “less healthy” food products and on point of sale material promoting these products. The Dutch food industry is the first in Europe to make this kind of commitment. The Dutch Advertising Code for Food Products prohibits advertising of “less healthy” food and beverage products to children under 13 years of age on TV, radio, outdoor, and the internet, with marketing to children under 7 years being banned completely unless there is an approval from the government and/or an approved food authority. Until now, packaging and point of sale materials have been outside the scope of the Code.

Moving across the Atlantic to Canada, the House of Commons is considering a bill that would restrict marketing of food and beverages to children under the age of 13, potentially infringing on marketers’ rights to advertise to adults. The bill addresses TV, online, and print advertising as well as product labeling, in-store displays and even ending some sponsorships for sports teams. Regulating the use of characters and celebrities and branding for these foods is also being considered. It is likely that a program would be considered “kid-directed” if merely 15% of the audience is comprised of children. This could sweep up many shows not traditionally considered as targeted to children, including sports programming with large predominantly adult audiences. Political observers in Canada predict it is highly likely that this bill will pass, despite strong efforts by the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA). Enforcement would begin two years after the bill becomes law.

While ANA believes efforts like the bill in Canada would be found unconstitutional if advanced here in the U.S., the global trend toward restricting food marketers’ rights ever more tightly is highly troubling. ANA supports the goal of lowering childhood obesity, but placing overly restrictive rules on advertising without sound proof that it is the cause of this epidemic is misguided. In the U.S., industry self-regulation through the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) will continue to spur food companies to only advertise products that meet strict nutrition criteria to children under age 12. The CFBAI enforces against violations of these companies’ pledges.

Furthermore, reducing food advertising in virtually any form will adversely impact the economic benefits driven through this historically beneficial business practice. The French Assembly recently rejected several amendments calling for a ban on food marketing to children and the mandatory inclusion of Nutri-Score labelling in food marketing communications. We hope that other counties follow France’s lead and dismiss these misguided proposals.

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