Food marketing regulation and civil society mobilisation

Eleanor Brooks, Amandine Garde, Alba Gil, Dorota Sienkiewicz. Emma Calvert
Resource type:
Peer review

For over 20 years, the EU has struggled to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing even though food marketing has been identified as an important contributor to unhealthy food environments and diet-related diseases. Overall, political will has been insufficient to implement the WHO recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children in Europe. In particular, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive - the main EU legislative instrument intended to serve this purpose - contains major gaps, and its limited scope has promoted the shifts of marketing investment from regulated to unregulated programmes and media, leaving children insufficiently protected from exposure to unhealthy food marketing. Moreover, and perhaps even more fundamentally, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive relies primarily on the establishment of public-private partnerships and the adoption of industry codes of conduct, even though it is increasingly established that such regulatory mechanisms are not suitable to achieve the objective they pursue. This lack of political will to effectively regulate food marketing to protect children from its harmful impact is all the more striking if one considers the growing recognition in Europe and beyond that food marketing should be envisaged not only as a global health issue but also as a major child rights concern. Various Council Presidency Conclusions (e.g. Malta in 2017, Bulgaria in 2018) and the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child (2021) all call on the EU to protect the right of the child to good nutrition through the regulation of, among others, food marketing. The need to address food marketing is further reinforced by the various actions that are ongoing in the EU, including the Best ReMaP joint action, and the forthcoming adoption by the WHO of a Guideline on policies to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing. This one-hour workshop proposes to discuss how the renewed mobilisation of civil society organisations across Europe, working closely with the academic community, can use this framing of food marketing as both a public health and a human rights concern. In particular, it will reflect on the human rights arguments that can be used to promote better health for all.

Two short presentations will consider specifically the role that 1) human rights and health impact assessments, and 2) the best interest of the child principle can play in promoting healthier food environments. It will then reflect specifically on the ongoing Food Marketing Initiative, which over 20 pan-EU federations of public health, consumer and children's rights organisations are leading. A panel discussion with several of the organisations involved in this Initiative will reflect on the landmark moments of this Initiative to date, and how it has helped to foster new thinking in this policy area which is crucial to promote healthier food environments for all.

Key messages

• Envisaging food marketing as a child rights issue offers new, potentially powerful arguments to ensure that children are better protected from its harmful impact.

• New forms of civil society mobilisation can urge the EU and its Member States to act in light of existing evidence with a view to promoting healthier, more sustainable food environments for all.

This resource has been peer reviewed