THE DECISION BY the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to exempt cheese products from new rules aimed at the limiting the advertising of foodstuff high in fat, salt or sugar to children has been welcomed.
Under the new rules, the advertising of food and drink high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) will not be permitted during children’s programmes. In addition no more than 25 per cent of advertising sold by a broadcaster can be for HFSS food and drink and no more than one in four adverts included in any advertising break can be for such products.
HFSS foods will be determined by the ‘nutrient profiling model’ – which, it was decided after consultation with the Department of Health, will not include cheese.
The BAI has initially proposed that Ireland should introduce an advertising code based on Britain’s Nutrient Profiling Model, under which the advertising of cheese to children under the age of 18 would be banned as it it would be classified as a ‘less healthy food’. This move was met with firm opposition from the Dairy Council.
The decision to exempt cheese from the new regulation has been welcomed, with Fine Gael Laois Offaly Deputy Charlie Flanaghan saying interest groups had voiced concern that a ban on cheese adverts before 9pm would have a “detrimental effect on their industry”.
“I made it clear to the BAI that the model on which they were assessing cheese and branding it as a junk food was both outdated and flawed,” he said.
Childhood obesity ‘major health risk’
The Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) also welcomed the exemption of cheese products from the new advertising regulations, but added that the newly published code was nonetheless based on a “flawed science”.
Commenting on the issue, FDII Head of Consumer Foods Shane Dempsey said “many other nutritious products that provide positive nutrients in the Irish diet will be banned from advertising to children.”
Similarly, the representative body for primary school leaders – Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) – welcomed the new regulations saying they would help to curb the growing trend of childhood obesity and create a more responsible culture of children’s advertising.
Seán Cottrell, IPPN Director, described childhood obesity as a “major health risk”, quoting recent studies that indicated 327,000 children in Ireland are estimated to be either obese or overweight.
“The restrictions will also help to wean food and drink companies off any notion that children are a ‘soft touch’ for marketers keen to push products to a vulnerable cohort of the population. These new rules are especially timely in the context of the upcoming referendum on children’s rights,” he said.
Cottrell welcomed the exemption of advertisements for cheese from the new rules, describing the move as ‘sensible on the basis that cheese is healthy and nutritious for children.’
Irish Heart Foundation ‘disappointed’
However, the revised regulations were not welcomed by everyone: the Irish Heart Foundation has expressed concerns that the new regulations do not go far enough – saying it was disappointed that the BAI’s proposed Children’s Commercial Communications Code does not ban the advertising of foods such as “French fries, crisps, confectionery, biscuits and sugary sweetened drinks from 6.00am to 9.00pm in order to protect children and young people”.
“I am extremely concerned that a ban on adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), excludes prime time viewing when on average the most popular time for children (4 to 17 year olds) to watch television is between the hours of 6pm and 9pm and over half of Irish children watch adult programmes without parental supervision. It is clear that the interests of industry have been put before the health of Irish children,” said Maureen Mulvihill, Head of Health Promotion at the Irish Heart Foundation.
The Foundation said commercial interests had ‘taken priority over the health of children’ and that a ban on advertising such foodstuffs up to 9pm, to include primetime family viewing, was the only proportionate response to ensure adequate protection of children’s health.
It said that a pre-watershed ban was also “strongly supported” by 75 per cent of Irish parents.