Editorial: Why Which? is just being contrary over food rules

Is there anything food advertisers and their agencies can do to satisfy health lobbyists such as Which?, whose evangelism now borders on the obsessive?

Not a lot, it seems. Curbs on food ads in the UK are among the toughest in the world. Indeed, there's a case to be made that they are Draconian.

Now, the industry and the Government are set to work together on a marketing campaign to raise awareness of issues such as obesity. At last, there's a chance to prove advertising can be part of the solution rather than the problem.

None of this appears to cut much ice with Which?. Last week, in a report titled Food Fables, the group accused companies of not doing enough to curb the marketing of snack foods and fizzy drinks to children. It infers that significant numbers of advertisers use the internet to sidestep restrictions. What's more, it claims that 88 per cent of consumers believe these companies should act more responsibly.

But a poll conducted by Associated Newspapers last year found that more than 70 per cent of people do not believe ad restrictions will improve healthy eating or reduce obesity levels among children. If these findings prove anything, it's that polls can confirm whatever you want them to.

As far as Which? is concerned, the tide is flowing its way. The healthy lifestyle issue is now so far up the public agenda that advertisers dare not ignore it if they want to stay in business. At the same time, it seems inconceivable that other food and drink giants will not follow the lead of Coca-Cola, Nestle, Mars and Burger King, which have promised the European Union they will not market to children under 12 after the end of the year. After that, how many other major producers will be prepared to risk a public outcry?

Last week, Baroness Peta Buscombe, the Advertising Association's chief executive, signalled her determination to get the industry further off the back foot with the appointment of the former agency senior manager Rae Burdon as its chief operating officer. Burdon says it's about time bullying of the industry stopped. The latest action by Which? suggests he has a point.