Govt blocks junk-food ad ban

The Government is to block an attempt by MPs to ban advertising for junk food, despite the attempt having won the backing of more than 250 backbenchers.

Debate on the Children's Food Bill was adjourned until next June, after it ran out of time when it was discussed by MPs last Friday. This gives ministers a breathing space in which to persuade the food industry to draw up a tougher advertising code.

The Labour MP Mary Creagh, who introduced the Private Member's Bill, said: "We have an epidemic of childhood obesity and we are storing up a physical timebomb in the next generation.

"We need a ban on junk-food advertising, because advertisers treat children as consumers. Last year, they spent more than £700 million on advertising to children. Parents are tired of being pestered to buy foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt, simply because they recognise Bart Simpson, Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine or any of a host of Disney characters on biscuits, cereals and yoghurts in supermarkets."

The health minister Rosie Winterton said the Government was "very supportive" of Creagh's initiative but would not back legislation if the industry put its house in order.

She said: "We have made it clear that we would prefer a partnership approach. But we have also made it clear that, because of the issues raised, if we do not see improvements in standards, we will consider whether further measures are needed, for example through legislation."

In September, the Food and Drink Federation issued proposals for a tougher code on broadcast ads, pledging to avoid messages that encourage "an unhealthy lifestyle among children". It also promised curbs on celebrity endorsement.