The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) has warned
the Food Standards Agency (FSA) against taking a "dangerously
interventionist" approach to food advertising, following the FSA's
decision to review consumer assurance schemes.
ISBA is concerned that the FSA review could act as the catalyst for
heavyweight regulation of food advertising and is determined to use its
lobbying muscle to stave off further intervention.
Last week, the FSA said that low recognition among consumers of
assurance schemes, designed by food manufacturers to provide a guarantee
of brand quality, meant a review was necessary.
Around 20 such commercial initiatives operate in the UK. They include
the National Farmers' Union's (NFU) Red Tractor logo. The kitemark
provides a pledge that food carrying the logo was produced in accordance
with food-hygiene and animal-welfare standards. The FSA has the power to
require organisations such as the NFU to abandon consumer assurance
schemes if it decides they do not benefit consumers.
"The FSA's review is a clear warning signal. It is a further indication
that the FSA is willing to take an interventionist approach to the
issues of advertising and promotion of foods. The FSA's strategy shows
signs of becoming dangerously interventionist," said ISBA director of
public affairs Ian Twinn.
Criticising the FSA's "reluctance to enter a constructive dialogue about
the positive role of advertising", Twinn reiterated ISBA's call of
earlier this year for the FSA to develop a strategy for educating
consumers about the health benefits of a balanced diet and regular
"The FSA stands at a crossroads - whether to educate or to regulate.
Regulation is a dangerous path," said Twinn.
Although the FSA denied any intention to push for advertising
regulation, ISBA said it will monitor developments carefully.
The escalating debate over food marketing comes as several lobbying
groups step up their efforts to introduce tighter regulation amid claims
there is a direct link between ads and obesity in children.
Lobbying group SUSTAIN, which promotes sustainable farming methods, and
the Food Commission are among the parties that have called on the FSA to
legislate food marketing more stringently.