ISBA warns FSA not to intervene in food ads

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

exercise.



"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.



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