EU junk-food fight is on

Critics: Ad ban is risk to kid biz

Children's television will be the first victim if the European Union goes ahead with its ban on junk-food advertising, broadcasters warned Wednesday.

As the European Commission, the EU's executive body, announced plans for tough television advertising standards on unhealthy processed food, the Association of Commercial Television in Europe said the move will hit children and youth programming hardest.

"The economics of children's television are very precarious. It isn't huge budgets, it is narrow margins," ACT secretary general Ross Biggam said. "Fast food does provide a lot of the advertising for these programs. Domestic children's programs would therefore be at risk if there is a wide ban on junk foods."

The EC on Wednesday announced the advertising plans as part of its anti-obesity strategy. EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou revealed that a majority of adults are obese or overweight in most EU nations.

"If we don't act, today's overweight children will be tomorrow's heart attack victims," he said. "That is why the commission is calling on the industry to advertise responsibly and reduce levels of salt, fats and sugar in food products."

The EC's initial measures for stronger advertising codes will be limited to the European Advertising Standards Alliance. But it warned that it is ready to intervene with new regulations if advertisers don't make real progress.

The precise wording for the advertising codes has yet to be revealed, but Biggam said broadcasters are concerned that the proposed measures will rule out almost all food groups regardless of their nutritional value.

British TV regulator Ofcom has come under attack for draconian measures after it adopted a nutrient profiling model to ban junk-food promotions to children, with the end result banning ads for cheese.

The EC move comes three months after the European Parliament voted to restrict TV advertising of junk foods and called for tighter measures to ensure the media helped the fight against obesity in Europe.

MEPs called on European media industries to ensure that children's products in different media formats — television, cinema, the Internet and video games — carry information about the importance of getting involved in sports and eating fruits and vegetables in order to remain healthy.