Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The weight of opinion is growing for a ban on junk food advertising

Happy St. Patrick's Day as I write here in Scotland, where it is just another day at the office, where I am over for a 2 day meeting. So while most of the population was gearing up for St.Patrick's day, not too many were aware that last Sunday March 15th was World Consumer Rights Day. No great surprise I suppose, but it does give consumer advocates an opportunity to raise issues of importance nationally and globally.

Campaign video from our Italian counterparts

Consumers International co-ordinated the theme and events for the day. For the second year in a row they decided to focus on the campaign to restrict junk food advertising to children and young people, which is leading to such a huge health and social problem all over the world. This is part of their ongoing excellent "Junk Food Generation" campaign.

We have a major problem in Ireland, it is estimated that over 330,000 children are obese. The Government set up a Taskforce on Obesity which reported in 2005. It set out a course of action, however like many strategies published in recent years it largely lies gathering dust.

We once again took the opportunity again this year to link up with the Children's Rights Alliance Their CEO Jillian Van Turnhout is not only an excellent advocate for children, but also a good friend of many years. Last March we called for action to be taken to protect children from aggressive and pervasive junk food advertising, in the form of a ban of adverts before 9pm.

We were delighted that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan included section 42 of the Broadcasting Bill 2008 to restrict the advertising of foods which are high in salt, sugar and fat to children. The Bill is making its way through the Oireachtas and should be passed by the summer, however in our view it is vital that once it is passed that the new proposed Broadcasting Authority moves quickly to regulate junk food advertising.

As expected there has been an outcry from sections of the junk food and advertising industries to date. No doubt they will propose industry developed and managed "voluntary" codes which won't be worth the paper they are written on and even if breached there will be no meaningful penalties. However the reality is that the Goverment has to put the current and future health and well being of thousands of children before commercial interests. I think a long battle lies ahead, but one worth fighting!

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