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Food industry to self censor on junk food

Food and beverage manufacturers have voluntarily vowed to introduce a code of conduct not to advertise products to children unless they promote a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Manufacturers hope is that it will counter calls for tough laws banning junk food advertising targeted at kids.

Companies participating in the Australian Food and Grocery Council’s (AFGC) responsible children’s marketing initiative will commit to targeting children under 12 “only when it will further the goal of promoting healthy dietary choices and healthy lifestyles”.

The initiative will apply to all television, radio, print, cinema and internet advertising “where the audience is predominantly children under 12,” or where the programme “is directed primarily to children.”

In August, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) released research showing there was little evidence of a link between junk food advertising and obesity levels in children.

As a result, ACMA said it would not recommend any new advertising restrictions. But outraged health and parents’ groups accused ACMA of failing to adequately protect children.

The Queensland and SA governments have both flagged potential legislation, and earlier this month NSW Health Minister, John Della Bosca, joined them in calling for tougher regulation.

AFGC chief executive, Kate Carnell, has said despite the ACMA findings “the industry is still keen to address community concerns regarding advertising to children.”

But the council argues self-regulation is more effective than new laws. In a document outlining the initiative, AFGC says “there is no evidence to suggest the current system of regulation for food and beverage advertising is failing.

“Therefore, the council does not support further legislation in this area.”

Carnell said food manufacturers believed the responsible children’s marketing initiative was the best mechanism to address parents’ concerns about junk food advertising.

She said an independent arbitrator would oversee the scheme.

AFGC said it would develop a “transparent compliance programme” with the help of the Australian Association of National Advertisers.

It will include a public complaints system and “sanctions will be developed to ensure participants meet their obligations.”

AFGC comprises 150 companies which sell 80% of the highly processed foods and beverages available in Australia.

But McDonald’s and KFC – often the focus of parents’ anger – are not members. The new initiative also will regulate the use of popular personalities and cartoon characters, product placement and advertising in schools.

Industry hopes to have the scheme up and running by the beginning of next year.

Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition said she is concerned that the proposed framework is voluntary, saying it does not go far enough. “We believe that junk food marketing should be banned to kids aged 16 and under but primary school is free from junk food marketing,” she said.

– AAP

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