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Government risks backlash over junk food ban

Terry M outdoor 5First, it has to be said that improving the country’s health is a good thing. The trouble is that tackling bad diet via an advertising ban on junk food risks a backlash from one of Scotland’s most successful industries.

While some fabulous produce is being sold and served – from fresh salmon and beef to the finest whiskies – it cannot be denied that this country also produces more than its fair share of teeth-rotting, weight-inducing, heart-stopping sweet and fatty stuff.

Like it or not, sugary cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks are just as identifiable with Scotland as the sort of food and drink we are now – thankfully – becoming more renowned for producing.

As part of its attempts to improve the health of the nation, and in particular young people, Holyrood wants to see advertising of these products curtailed. This includes a ban before the television watershed.

So how will the food and drink industry react?

Irn-Bru advertThis is a tricky one. The lobby groups tend to promote the healthier options, often produced by artisans. Not only are these products used as ingredients in top restaurants they are also making it into the supermarkets and so reaching the broader public. This is a hugely positive development and one to be encouraged.

But Scotland is also known as a producer of fizzy drinks, biscuits and cakes – the most obvious being Irn-Bru and Walkers shortbread. Promotion of these products tends to be left to the companies themselves, and they spend millions of pounds on campaigns. In the case of Irn-Bru, Edinburgh-based Leith Agency has been a major beneficiary.

For soft drinks companies in particular the target market is young people and their advertising often features this same demographic. Banning advertising is therefore a more complex issue than simply keeping young eyes off the product before bedtime.

The Scottish Government is to be applauded for wanting to beat the scourge of obesity, but it has to tread carefully and take the food and drink industry with it. Just as it wants to impose a minimum price on alcohol, it is in danger setting itself against the very companies it is also hoping will help it build the economy.

This has been the year of Scottish food and drink, promoted by the Scottish government. Calling for an advertising ban seems a very odd way to mark the end it.

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