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Self-regulation works!

Håkon Mageli, Group Director, Corporate Communications and Corporate Affairs

Håkon Mageli, Group Director, Corporate Communications and Corporate Affairs

The Norwegian Food and Drink Industry Professional Practices Committee (MFU) is an excellent example of proof that self-regulation works and helps to keep developments on the right track, as Group Director Håkon Mageli wrote in a feature article in the grocery trade journal Dagligvarehandelen on 26 January 2016. Read the entire article here.

When the already stringent regulation of marketing to children and adolescents was to be further tightened in 2013, the MFU was established to prevent marketing of unhealthy food and drink to children and teenagers. Through a system of self-regulation, the industry was trusted to show that we can keep our own house in order.

Now that the MFU’s trial period is coming to an end and the system is to be evaluated, there is every reason, in the light of the contribution that MFU has made, why it should be made permanent. One aspect is the specific complaints that MFU has dealt with. At least as important, however, is understanding how the system as a whole has helped to raise industry awareness of the issue.

This impact is clearly apparent in the fact that

  • we now see fewer store activities that target children; 
  • the way cinema advertising is sold has changed as a result of the establishment of MFU; 
  • websites with brand-linked activities for children have been closed.

Furthermore, we see that industry players have become more proactive when it comes to screening activities in advance to ensure that they cannot be perceived as targeting children and adolescents. In addition, MFU has influenced innovation processes in the development of future products.

The system has attracted international attention. In November last year, Orkla, together with eight other multinational companies and the World Federation of Advertising, was invited to meet the EU Commission to explain the voluntary system that we have established in Norway.

The examples showing that MFU works are numerous, and should justify making the arrangement a permanent one. We are therefore surprised that some are saying that the system in its present form is not effective, and calling for stricter rules.

In any evaluation, we must of course listen to comments and recommendations and make our own analysis to determine whether changes should be made. But when we see arguments being presented for raising the age limit from 13 to 18 years and prohibiting specific products and general marketing activities, these seem to us to be unreasonable demands that make it difficult for us to conduct our business. How are we to prevent a 17-year-old from seeing a confectionery advertisement that an 18-year-old is allowed to see? How high on store shelves must Bamsemums sweets be placed to make sure that 16-year-olds cannot see them, while keeping them within the reach of 18-year-olds. How are rules like this to be enforced?

It is important that we do not channel complex issues relating to children and overweight into a marketing-related impasse. This is particularly important because there is no documentary evidence of any clear link between overweight among children and food and drink marketing. A survey conducted by the National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO) also shows that marketing to children is not a major problem in Norway.

Back in 2013, the industry was given an opportunity and trusted to practice self-regulation and judge its own actions in cases where the guidelines were not followed. Now that it is clear that we have succeeded in doing so, it is incomprehensible that the outcome should be stricter rules and tightening of a system of self-policing that is already strong.

It is important that the entire industry now make a concerted call for MFU be allowed to continue as at present. There is every indication that it is a cost-effective arrangement that requires little bureaucracy, and that has attracted positive attention internationally. Most importantly: it works! In other words – there is every reason to maintain MFU and let the industry continue to take responsibility for keeping its own house in order.

Source: Dagligvarehandelen 26 January 2016.