First, New Year's Greetings to all!
Readers may feel that I am overly harsh on FCC and too admiring of the UK's Ofcom - their new FCC counterpart. My cable service is out of action here in Paris (people who don't like their cable provider in the US have never encountered Paris' Noos which is worse in everyway possible). The International Herald Tribune has taken a multiday holiday, so I celebrated New Year's Day by buying a copy of The Daily Telegraph ("printed in Brussels").
An article entitled "Labelling cheese as junk food 'unfair' " caught my eye. This article shows that Ofcom, whose spectrum policies I generally admire, is capable of major screwups. The broadcasting side of Ofcom has tried to regulate food advertising to children and has relied on a formulistic approach to defining "junk food". As a result, cheese advertising is forbidden during children's programming, but Diet Coke is OK. The formula assumes 100g (3.5 oz.) servings of any product or condiment and as a result ketchup and Marmite (UK's answer to peanut butter) can't be advertised since 100g of each is is not healthy, even though the usual serving is less.
Of course, the basic lesson here is that regulation seems to be a helpful government tool, but when you try to write a regulation that is clear and understandable and has consensus support you sometimes end up with something that isn't worth doing.
Here is the text of the article. A similar BBC report is here.
New advertising rules that will officially label cheese as "junk food" were condemned yesterday by the dairy industry as unfair, misleading and counter-productive.
Under regulations coming into force this month, broadcasters will be banned from advertising cheese during children's television programmes or in shows with a large proportion of child viewers, such as The Simpsons and Hollyoaks.
The ban is part of a government drive to crack down on junk food adverts on television, which is designed to reduce the exposure of children to foods high in fat, salt and sugar.
It follows evidence that TV commercials have an indirect impact on children's eating behaviour and are contributing to the obesity epidemic.
However, the dairy industry says the rules, which are being introduced by the television regulator Ofcom, are a nonsense.
Under the nutrient profiling model used to distinguish junk food from "healthy" food, cheese is officially labelled as more unhealthy than sugary cereals, cheeseburgers, double chocolate chip cake and full fat crisps.
The industry points out that if breast milk were covered by the rules, it too would be classed as junk food.
Dan Rogerson, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cheese, branded the model as "simplistic and counter-productive".
He said: "How preposterous that Ofcom restrictions should be based on a model so flawed as to take cheese off the air, while diet cola, which has no nutritional value whatever, is left firmly on children's menus. It has to be perverse that while milk may be advertised, a wholesome product made from milk — cheese — cannot."
Ofcom published its draft conclusions on junk food adverts in November and is expected to release its final report within weeks.
Its initial report went much further than expected. It proposed banning the advertising of all foods classified as high in fat, salt and sugar during programmes made for children under 16, on dedicated children's channels and during programmes with a higher than average proportion of child viewers.
However, the ban only covered specific foods, not brands. So while McDonald's cannot advertise burgers during children's programmes, it could promote its restaurants.
The rules also proposed a ban on cartoon characters for adverts aimed at primary school age children shown at any time of the day.
The most controversial part of the proposals is the use of the nutrient profiling model drawn up by the Food Standards Agency.
The model assesses the fat, sugar and salt content in a 100g or 100ml serving of a food or drink — rather than a typical serving.
The food industry says the use of the FSA model has led to anomalies.
Tomato ketchup, for instance, contains a high proportion of sugar and salt and is counted as a high fat, salt and sugar food — even though most people only eat a small amount with a meal. Marmite, which contains 11 per cent salt, is also counted as junk food — even though most people eat only a few grams on bread.
The British Cheese Board says the typical portion size of cheese is 30g to 40g, the size of a small matchbox, not the 100g used in the FSA nutrient profiling model.
If a typical portion sized was used in the model, most cheese would be exempt from the ban, it says.
Nigel White, a spokesman for the board, said: "Cheese is one of the most nutritionally complete foods and can play an important part of a healthy balanced diet for children of all ages."