Greens bid to ban junk food advertising to children appears destined to fail

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 13th March 2009

Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown yesterday led off debate on the Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising Bill 2009 in the Senate, which proposes a ban on junk food and alcohol advertising during peak viewing times of children as well as restrictions on promoting unhealthy food at schools.

Both major parties have indicated they are likely to vote against the proposed legislation, however.

Senator Brown told the Senate that the lack of support from Labor represented a serious strategic mistake by their strategists as the Greens “have worked hard to expedite important Government legislation in recent months.”

“More than 80 per cent of food ads shown on commercial TV are for foods that are typically high in fat, sugar or salt and are of low nutritional value, like fast foods, soft drinks and ice creams,” Senator Brown suggested. “This bill would prohibit junk food advertisements from appearing on television during children’s viewing hours.”

“A junk food advertising ban is not the solution, but it is a sensible first step in tackling the growing problem of childhood obesity,” he added.

A Senate inquiry late last year knocked back the ‘Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising Broadcasting Amendment) Bill 2008′, much to the chagrin of the Greens and Family First. They cited the ongoing work by the Preventative Health Taskforce to create a compelte health strategy as the reason for their lack of support.
The Australian Food and Grocery Council was supporting of the inquiry’s findings, believing the bill was unnecessary as industry prepared to introduce its own Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative – on 1 January 2009.

CEO Kate Carnell reported that companies participating in this initiative would publicly commit to only advertise to children under 12 when it will further the goal of promoting healthy dietary choices and healthy lifestyles. “Each participant will develop and make publicly available an individual company action plan that outlines how they will meet the initiatives core principles,” she advised. “Participants will not advertise food and beverage products to children under 12 in any media unless those products represent healthy dietary choices, consistent with established scientific or Australian government standards.”

“Further, companies will also commit to only advertise products in the context of promoting good dietary habits and physical activity,” Ms Carnell said. “The Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiatives is supported by major food and beverage manufacturers, the Australian Association of National Advertisers and other industry groups. These companies represent the majority of food and beverage manufacturing in Australia.”

The Senate Committee suggested that it could not be sure a junk food ad ban would have the desired impact, with a multifaceted approach more desirable.

“The Committee believes it is premature to bring forward legislative changes to food and beverage advertising while the National Obesity Strategy is developed by the National Preventative Health Taskforce and before the industry’s initiatives in relation to responsible advertising can be properly assessed,” they concluded.