New threat to ban junk-food ads as DoH pressures Ofcom

LONDON - A ban on junk-food advertising to children became more likely this week as it emerged the Department of Health is planning to railroad Ofcom into finding in favour of a ban when it consults on the issue later this year.

In a statement to Campaign this week, the DoH gave the strongest indication so far of the concessions it expects to see from the industry before it decides whether to legislate. "Companies selling high-fat and high-sugar foods will still be able to advertise them to adults, who can make an informed choice for themselves. They will not be able to do so to three-year-olds, who can't reasonably be expected to make that kind of decision for themselves," the DoH said.

Two weeks ago, the progress report on the White Paper on public health gave Ofcom the task of consulting on tighter broadcast rules for junk-food advertising and gave the industry until 2007 to make changes. A DoH spokeswoman insisted nothing had changed. "We are not dictating what the tighter broadcast rules will be," she said.

However, the statement added: "For TV advertising, Ofcom will consult the broadcasting and advertising industries to tighten the rules on broadcast advertising, so that at the times of day when children are most likely to be watching television, promotion of unhealthy food will not be broadcast."

An Ofcom spokesman declined to comment, other than to say the regulator will be consulting with the industry this year and that "everything is still up for grabs".

Earlier, MPs threatened to ban junk-food advertising before 2007 if the food and advertising industries fail to make fast enough progress on a new code of practice to protect children. On Monday, the education secretary, Ruth Kelly, said action would be taken "by 2007, if not earlier". She added: "We want to see real progress. If sufficient progress is not made before then [2007], we will legislate."

Kelly was launching Labour's mini-manifesto on children, which said: "We will work with Ofcom to tighten the rules on broadcast advertising and sponsorship and promotion of food and drink. We will secure the rules' effective implementation by broadcasters in order to ensure that children are properly protected from encouragements to eat too many high-fat, salty and sugary foods, both during children's programmes and at other times when large numbers of children are watching. If these rules do not work, we will legislate."

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