At a World Health Organisation (WHO) Ministerial Conference held in Istanbul in November 2006, the WHO adopted the European Charter on Counteracting Obesity, which states that the prevalence of obesity in the WHO European Region has increased by up to three times over the last two decades and that half of all adults and one in five children are overweight. It suggests that the private sector should play an important role in combating obesity and have responsibility for building a healthier environment.
In 2006 the European Parliament passed a Regulation (No. 1924/2006) concerning nutrition and health claims made on foods highlighting permissible and non-permissible claims. Currently EASA is working closely with its member SROs to analyze how each member is handling food health and nutrition claims and to promote self-regulation in this area.
In 2009 the WHO circulated an internal draft working paper on food marketing to children, followed by a series of consultations with NGOs, food manufacturers and Member States.
The international business community recognises the importance of social responsibility in advertising and marketing, and in 2004 the International Chamber of Commerce published its Framework for Responsible Food and Beverage Communications, which was subsequently updated in October 2006, extending its scope to marketing communications. Bringing together relevant articles from its International Codes of Advertising Practice and of Sales Promotion, the Framework provides a clear interpretation of existing rules for advertising food and beverages. Most SROs in EASA membership have adopted these guidelines.
Levels of complaint
Levels of complaint about food advertisements rose sharply in 2007 to 13.08% from 6.86% in 2006. In 2008 the number of complaints decreased significantly to 7.62%. It is likely that the drastic increase of complaints in 2007 was due to the implementation of the European Parliament regulation concerning food health and nutrition claims adopted late in 2006 while the drop in complaints in 2008 is likely due to the publication of guidance on implementing the regulation which was published late in 2007.
Freedom of commercial speech in the sale of legal products is a fundamental principle of free markets. However the exercise of this freedom comes with obligations, and an essential element in the freedom of speech is responsibility, so the ICC encourages all food and beverage communicators to adhere to the principles of responsible consumer communication, above and beyond compliance with laws and regulations, especially when communicating to children.
In 2007 the European Commission proposed a Draft EU Strategy on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity. This White Paper follows a 2006 Green Paper consultation and agrees that, to tackle the issue of obesity successfully, the EU should envisage the integration of different policies and partnerships. The EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, which was set up in 2005 to bring together the key stakeholders – major food producers, retailers, the World Health Organisation, consumer organisations and relevant NGOs – with the aim of agreeing a multi-stakeholder approach, will continue to be a central part of such partnership approaches. Regarding food advertising to children, the Commission favours a voluntary approach and recommends the “best practice model” for self-regulation contained in the Report on the Advertising Roundtable prepared by Robert Madelin, Director General of DG SANCO. The Commission will review progress by 2010.