It is extremely rare for a regulatory person to express sympathy for marketers, but in the current climate I do feel a bit sorry for those seeking to promote foods to children.
The good news is that by the time you read this we should have a transitional period for health claims for children's foods.
However, other restrictions are coming with regard to the implementation of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (Directive 2005/29/EC) into UK law in the form of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2007.
The legislation introduces a general prohibition on traders not to treat consumers unfairly and applies across all trade sectors. As with health claims, practices directed at a particular group of consumers must consider the average member of the group, eg would a child be misled by a particular description in targeted advertising?
Along with general provisions, the legislation contains a list of commercial practices that are in all circumstances considered unfair. One such practice is a prohibition on including in an advertisement a 'direct exhortation' to children to buy advertised products, or persuade their parents or other adults to buy advertised products for them. I struggled to find an overt example of such a practice in the food industry without turning the clock back to a 1950's Rowntrees advert with the slogan 'don't forget the fruit gums mum!' What remains to be seen is how 'direct exhortation' is interpreted, as surely the aim of any advert is to drive a purchase.
It may be some relief to see that the practice of making exaggerated statements not meant to be taken literally is excluded from the general prohibition on unfair practices, but which manufacturers will be brave enough to make such claims remains to be seen!
Kath Veal is business manager, Regulatory and Technical Consultancy Services at Leatherhead Food International