UK: Food For Thought: Advertising And Labelling

Last Updated: 24 September 2015
Article by John Cassels, Stefanie Greifeneder and Jessica Burns

This week, the spotlight is on key regulatory risk issues currently faced by companies in the food and drink sector.  Today we focus on advertising and labelling.

Commission consults on TV and online ad rules

The EU Commission is seeking comments on plans to amend advertising rules under the 2010 Audio-Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), as part of a wider attempt to cut down on red tape and unnecessary rules for businesses.  The deadline for responding is 30 September.

The results of the consultation will feed into next year's review of the AVMSD, which lays down content and culture rules but also guidance on advertising to minors.

The Commission has indicated that it will examine whether the current system under the AVMSD should be adapted. It will also consider whether its current scope should be broadened so as to apply to new services and players that are outside the definition of 'audio-visual media services' set out in the Directive.

Manufacturer in Denmark fined for using violence in marketing

Energy drink manufacturer Cult has been fined DKK 100,000 (EUR 13,400) for using violence in an advertisement aimed at children.  This is understood to be the first time that an adverse finding has been made against a business regarding violence in advertising in Denmark.

The decision is based on the fact that the advertisement promoted a product (energy drink) that can be legally bought and drunk by children and that it indirectly called for violence by featuring a youth who commits a series of violent acts (including stealing a car, robbing a kiosk and attacking people) after consuming the Cult energy drink.

The fine was set on the basis of the advertisement's production cost and was also influenced by the fact that the advertisement had been publicly available for five years and could still be found online even after the ombudsman had requested Cult to remove it.

Cult does not agree with the outcome and, according to the consumer ombudsman website, is now considering whether to appeal against the judgment.

Is COOL worth it?

This week, the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee is considering two Commission reports issued in May 2015 under the 2011 Food Information to Consumers Regulation.  The reports found that the benefits of mandatory country of origin labelling (COOL) do not clearly outweigh the costs for products such as milk and dairy, minor meats, unprocessed foods, single ingredient foods and ingredients making up more than 50% of processed foods.

Some MEPs have already criticised the Commission's methodology, insofar as it arguably overestimated the costs of COOL that it put to consumers in a survey before asking them whether they would be willing to pay this much extra for the products concerned.

In February, a two-thirds majority of MEPs in plenary backed a resolution calling for mandatory COOL on processed meat products.  Only Parliament's largest political group - the European People's Party - came out against the resolution.

Traffic light labelling system in Poland

In a drive to hamper the spread of obesity, the Polish Government is considering whether to adopt the UK approach to food labelling by introducing a compulsory colour coded traffic light system for food producers.  This is despite the controversy that the UK system has attracted, with a threat of legal action by the EU Commission following complaints from Italy.

The Polish traffic light system would show the amount of calories, sugar, fat, saturated fat, salt and other nutrients in each product and would also indicate whether a given amount is low, medium or high, compared with the guideline daily amount. The labels would use colours (green, yellow or red) with the aim of clearly indicating each of the three levels, respectively.

If taken forward, the draft measure to adopt the traffic light system would form part of the new National Health Programme under which the government aims to set up a special fund designed to combat obesity and raise awareness on its negative effects. Warsaw plans to allocate PLN 60 million (EUR 14.5 million) to the programme which will be implemented in 2016 to 2020.

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