Editorial: Ministers risking failure with latest agencies rap

If ever Britain's agencies needed a reminder of the distance they still have to travel in convincing some knuckle-headed politicians that advertising isn't the root of all evil, the latest cunning plot to haul them into line provides it.

In a ludicrous reaction to the obesity problem, ministers are said to be considering barring agencies which have junk-food accounts from the COI Communications roster. The hope must be that this half-baked suggestion will hit the waste basket faster than an empty crisp packet. It is a naive and badly thought-through idea and one which, as COI's Peter Buchanan indicates in a letter on this page, is not on the agenda of the Government's communications agency.

For one thing, there can be few COI roster agencies that do not have a so-called junk-food client. Are they to be cast aside in an empty and meaningless gesture despite, perhaps, having produced a string of award-winning work for the Government? For another, how would such an action play with agencies at a time when ministers have urged them to use their talents to promote healthier diets?

And why should an agency's suitability to pitch for COI work depend on the Government's subjective judgment about what constitutes "good" and "bad" food?

No doubt apologists will try to cite a period during the 90s as a precedent, when the Department of Health refused to put work with agencies which handled tobacco business. This is nonsense. Tobacco kills people and it would have been ludicrous for one agency team to be boosting cigarette sales while another was trying to curb the level of smoking-related illness.

Junk food is different. Burgers and sweets are not in themselves the cause of obesity. It's the excessive consumption of such products that leads to obesity.

There are a multitude of reasons for the obesity epidemic. Poor diets and less sport in schools have their part to play.

Political pressures are already working. Snack food manufacturers are changing product formulas and examining when and how they advertise to children. That the Government should consider taking a blunt instrument to agencies when persuasion is beginning to work beggars belief.