Last Friday Conservative MPs talked out a bill from Labour’s Nigel Griffiths that sought to ban the advertising of junk food and drinks to children. Here are highlights of Ed Vaizey MP’s contribution to the debate:
Own obesity: "One thing that unites everybody in the Chamber is the recognition that obesity is a serious problem in the UK. I make that statement in the full knowledge that I am an obese man who needs to lose at least 40 lb and who was obese long before the advertising and food industries got their teeth into me. It is obviously true that obesity problems start in childhood, from bad habits picked up as a child."
The three causes of obesity: "The causes of obesity are extraordinarily complex, but in essence it comes down to three things. We will avoid obesity if we take more exercise and eat less food, and parents will avoid having obese children if they are prepared to take responsibility for the kind of food their children eat."
Rejecting Nigel Griffiths MP’s bill: "We already have some of the tightest restrictions on such advertising in the world. Indeed, a great many companies and advertising agencies have already engaged in a voluntary downgrading of such advertising. Since Ofcom introduced its ban, the exposure of unhealthy food to children aged four to nine has been reduced by a quarter, to children under 16 it has been reduced by more than half. Food advertising is now at its lowest level since 1982, on an absolute measure of food advertising. As a proportion of the total advertising take, it is less than half the level in 1982. Indeed, the advertising industry has been found to be 100 per cent. compliant with the Ofcom ban. So we find ourselves in a conundrum, where the advertising of unhealthy food has been dropping not simply since the Ofcom ban, but for several years, yet obesity continues to rise. As has been pointed out by some hon. Members, including me in an intervention, bans on the advertising of unhealthy food exist in other countries, and as yet no evidence can be seen to show that they have any effect on childhood obesity or, indeed, adult obesity."
McDonald’s ain’t so bad: "McDonald’s, the company that people love to hate and pillory, has done an enormous amount in terms of corporate social responsibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) mentioned football, but it has also been involved in training, including vocational training. Because of my involvement in work experience, I have visited McDonald’s and have seen what it does. An enormous amount of responsibility is taken. As everybody knows, the McDonald’s product range has changed, mainly because of public pressure, and there is a much greater focus on healthy eating. It is important that we recognise that the debate is not completely one-sided, with people from the evil industry desperately trying to force high-fat products on our children behind our backs, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South standing like Horatio at the bridge to prevent them from crossing. As has been mentioned, billions of pounds-worth of food products are now much lower in fat, sugar and salt."
An advertising ban would be bad for British TV: "As I have said, by banning advertising, the Bill would take £250 million away from the commercial broadcasters. That is money that could be used to produce British programmes. I, for one, believe that British programmes should be produced and shown on a range of channels, not just the BBC. Obviously, the ban would affect the advertising industry. I make no apologies to the hon. Member for Falkirk, who wants to parody me as seeing the advertising industry as a vested interest. We have a very successful advertising industry in this country. The Minister has just published her creative industries strategy paper, which flagged up the contribution that advertising and other creative industries make to this country, and the hon. Gentleman should know that there is a thriving advertising industry in Edinburgh. I therefore make no apologies if the message goes out from this House that the Conservative party supports the advertising industry and believes that it is doing a good job, including in self-regulation."
Where have all the playing fields gone?: "It is a bit rich of Labour Members to lecture us about the need to ban the advertising of high-fat foods because of the effect on our children, when their Government have closed 187 playing fields, and 57 more are earmarked for development. If the Government were serious about tackling childhood obesity, they would immediately ban the selling of playing fields, not the advertising of high-fat foods. They would reduce the cut to the number of training places for physical education teachers. They would tell us how they will get the 1 million children who currently do not do two hours a week of sport into sport and exercise. That is the type of positive thing that the Government could be doing."