Companies vow to stop junk food ads

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BRUSSELS -- Eleven major food and drink companies pledged Tuesday to stop advertising junk food to children under 12 by the end of 2008.

The move to self-regulate comes after the European Commission had warned that advertising bans would be imposed on the industry if it failed to comply with overall EU health policy aims.

The pledge -- which covers television, print and Internet advertising -- was signed by Coca-Cola, Groupe Danone, Ferrero, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever and Burger King. Together, these companies represent about two-thirds of EU food and beverage advertising spending.

The commission -- the EU's executive authority -- had called on the food industry to use advertising to support Europe's ongoing efforts to improve diet and lifestyle choices, or face EU-wide legislation. The most immediate commission priority was to reverse child obesity rates, which it said was influenced by a rash of junk food advertisements on daytime and children's television.

EU health and consumer affairs commissioner Markos Kyprianou revealed last May that a majority of adults are obese or overweight in most EU nations. He said overweight children were at risk of heart attacks later on in life, as he called on industry to advertise responsibly and reduce levels of salt, fats and sugar in food products.

The food companies said their pledge backed the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, the forum set up by Kyprianou in 2005. In a joint statement, they said they wanted to show the EU that they are making a "credible" effort to limit advertising of sugary and fatty foods to children.

The pledge commits them not to advertise food and beverage products to children under the age of 12, except for products that fulfill specific nutrition criteria based on accepted scientific evidence. They will also stop marketing foods and drinks in primary schools, unless they receive the approval of school authorities. Their deadline to apply the measures is Dec. 31, 2008.

Each company will set its own guidelines for what kinds of foods are inappropriate to advertise to children, but will base these guidelines on national or international nutrition standards.

The World Federation of Advertisers applauded the initiative as effective self-regulation. "Today's announcement demonstrates how self-regulation continues to respond in a timely and proactive way to societal concerns," said Stephan Loerke, WFA managing director.
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