SINGAPORE – The food and beverage industry has stepped up and demonstrated that voluntary self-regulation can make a real and measurable difference to the way food is marketed to children, according to World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) Managing Director Stephan Loerke.

Loerke confirmed that independent monitoring of voluntary developments over the past couple of years has demonstrated that self-regulation is working, and as a result, a multi-stakeholder approach is increasingly accepted – and even preferred – by governments and bodies like the World Health Organization.

The WHO recommendations on food marketing, adopted last year, called on industry “to reduce the impact on children of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars or salt.” The industry listened and agreed, Loerke said, taking voluntary actions that have had a large impact.

“Industry is increasingly viewed as a trusted partner, because companies have made clear and measurable commitments, and followed-up on them with independent third-party monitoring,” Loerke said. “The proof is emerging to show that a collaborative, voluntary approach has been a win both for companies and governments throughout the world.”

Loerke cited a number of examples of the effectiveness of voluntary self-regulation. One, the EU Pledge, will be extended to cover more TV programming and company-owned websites, a move the EU Commissioner for Health called “an important step in the right direction”.

Comparing 2005 and 2010 figures, children in Europe saw on average fewer advertisements for products not meeting better-for-you criteria in children’s programmes, and 48 percent fewer ads for such products during all TV programmes.
In the US, independent data show that US children between the ages of 2 and 11 viewed 50 percent fewer food and beverage ads in children’s TV programmes between 2004 and 2010. 

According to Loerke, commitments by food and beverage companies continue to evolve. Originally, company commitments applied to TV programmes when 50 percent of the audience was under 12 years of age. Now, the commitments apply when just 35 percent of the audience is in this age group. The commitments always covered TV, print and third-party internet advertising. Now they cover company-owned websites as well.

“This means that over 90 percent of food marketing spend is covered in nearly all markets worldwide,” Loerke said. “With these positive results, it’s clear that self-regulation will continue to be the tool of choice, thanks to the meaningful, rapid and transparent manner in which companies have responded. If the industry can continue to make voluntary commitments at no extra cost to either the state or the consumer, it’s clearly a winning formula.”