The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) announced the start of a public consultation process on the advertising of certain foods, after which it will decide whether existing broadcasting codes need to be changed.
The move comes after a report by a working of members of the BAI, the Department of Health, the HSE and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland recommended steps to counter childhood obesity.
It said advertising of food and drink high in energy, saturated fat, sugar and salt should be regulated in line with practices in Britain, with advertising restricted at times when a high proportion of children watch television.
Launching the consultation yesterday, the BAI stressed it did not yet have a position on the issue and wanted to hear from all sides. The consultation will remain open until mid-October, and will be considered by the BAI before it adopts a draft code next year, which will also be open to public consultation.
Any changes could then be effected by June or July 2012, with the BAI also hiring a nutritionist and a market analyst to help it analyse the findings of the initial public consultation.
BAI chairman Bob Collins said he did not expect an “adversarial response” from food producers, but employers’ body IBEC said it was “concerned” that consumers could be confused over the adding of dairy products such as cheese and butter to the list of products to face advertising restrictions.
IBEC executive Thomas Burke said that while “it is everyone’s objective that children are not exploited” it was also important that producers could advertise.
Potential restrictions on advertising would be based not only on the food advertised but the nature of the advert, the time at which it was shown and its impact upon parents’ food choices.
The BAI accepted that placing dairy products under restrictions in Britain had proved controversial, and added that any changes to the code would also apply to product placement in Irish-made programmes, but not to programmes produced overseas.
The Irish Heart Foundation (IHS) welcomed the announcement and said it wanted a ban before 9pm on the advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children up to age 16.
Michael O’Shea, IHS chief executive, said: “In 2008, four in five Irish parents said they would support a ban on TV ads for foods high in fat, sugar and salt until 9pm. Let us hope that this can be brought into effect to protect children’s health and create a more supportive environment.”
The National Dairy Council said the British model did not acknowledge the benefits of nutrients such as calcium.
The public consultation will use social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The BAI said it was keen to hear from parents and children.