Food Standards puts squeeze on children's marketing

LONDON - The UK's food marketers face an increasingly fierce debate over marketing to children, as the government's Food Standards Agency prepares to issue best practice guidelines for the first time.

The FSA is in the middle of a major research project into the links between marketing and children's eating habits. The project comes amid allegations from pressure groups that the industry is fuelling obesity among young people.

While the FSA has conducted similar research in the past, it has never introduced guidelines encompassing all areas of food manufacturers' marketing activity, from advertising to cause-related marketing schemes.

It is thought that the FSA research's recommendations may include more responsible consumption messages on product packaging and restrictions on marketing messages within schools.

Although such guidance will be ultimately be voluntary, it will place significant pressure on marketers who stray into potentially controversial areas.

Pressure groups have criticised Cadbury Trebor Bassett's Get Active! partnership with the Youth Sports Trust for encouraging excessive consumption. Britvic runs a similar scheme, called B Stars.

Recent research by The Food Commission attacked governing bodies including the Football Association for accepting sponsorship from Walkers and Coca-Cola.

An FSA spokeswoman said the research project had been triggered by "a growing interest within the FSA along with stakeholder concerns on the issue". She admitted that best practice guidelines were on the research team's agenda, but said definite plans had yet to be confirmed.

The team is expected to conclude its work by the end of the summer, when the FSA will consult with stakeholders including the food industry and consumer pressure groups over the findings.

A spokesman for the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers said it doubted the need for the research, but looked forward to discussing the findings with the FSA.

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