Skip to content

Advertisers to be reined in!

November 27, 2007

ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) has now brought in self-regulation guidelines for the advertising of food and beverages which will come into effect from the January 1, 2008. From now on advertisers will have to observe “caution and care while promoting products containing high fat/sugar/salt, directed at children below the age of 13 years.”

There were some guidelines already in existence, guidelines which stipulated that advertisements “should not harm minors, physically, mentally, morally, or exploit their vulnerability.” And the ASCI usually acted promptly on any complaints regarding ads which promoted junk foods and supplements at the expense of healthy foods.

These new guidelines however, are formal, more specific and have been formulated with the express consensus of industry. Multinational companies like HUL, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Cadbury and Nestle and Indian ones such as Marico, Dabur and Parle, members of the ASCI, have agreed to regulate their ads themselves.

Some examples: Companies have agreed not to promote over-consumption of junk foods. For example the thums up ad in which actor Akshay Kumar desires more than one bottle of the drink would now not be acceptable.

Manufacturers have also recognised that certain foods/beverages should not be promoted in schools and other institutions “frequented by children”.

Companies are also likely to add positive messages regarding the benefits of healthy food and exercise as a part of their advertisements. All of this is voluntary.

Well, I do hope Nestle withdraws it’s misleading claim that it’s ‘whole-wheat’ instant noodles are healthy! As the list of ingredients on the noodle package shows, the ‘atta’ noodles contain wheat flour (maida) as well as additives. The so-called veggies are too few to be significant. You can see pictures of the vegetables in these noodles here.

What does the world do?
There are WHO guidelines, what they call their “Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (DPAS)” which WHO expects governments, private industry and consumer groups to take heed of. These guidelines are basically actions against misleading and harmful marketing communication. After WHO issued these guidelines in 2004, about 10 countries have developed/revised their self-regulatory systems on food marketing. Expectedly, 8 of these are European countries.

Private industry detests regulations
Significantly, these regulations don’t actually disallow or “otherwise restrict the volume of food marketing to children” because private industry has lobbied against it, particularly in Australasia, Europe, and the United States, as well as major Asian and Latin American countries like China and India. Almost all over the world in fact!

Pictorial tobacco warnings to be used in India?
Just last evening there was news that the tobacco industry is lobbying hard to fight against the new packaging rule on tobacco packs which the government wants to introduce. The Union Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss has claimed that:

…four Chief Ministers and 150 MPs have so far asked him to tone down his anti-tobacco campaign specifically asking for dropping the Health Ministry’s plan to introduce pictorial warnings on packs of tobacco products.

There is evidence in countries like Canada and Brazil that such warnings deter smokers and a study published in the British Medical journals also confirms such findings. In the UK all cigarette packs will carry the pictorial warnings by the end of 2009. Britain will apparently be the first European country to implement this following in the wake of Canada (the first country to do this!), Australia, Brazil and Thailand. If India can manage to withstand pressure from industry it will be something we can be proud of.

Even granting that consumers are expected to know that cigarette smoking can cause cancer and should be allowed to destroy their health if they choose to, many people who do choose to smoke have little choice as they are addicted. These addictions start during the teenage years when people are at their most vulnerable.

Advertisers reach out to the young more easily
Research does show that a significant proportion of children believe that they will become successful or score better marks by consuming the advertised foods! Advertisers never had it so good. A proliferation of cable and satellite channels and an increase in the number of children’s programmes plus more kiddie couch potatoes than ever! That’s 2007 for you. The opportunities to communicate, entice and sell are limitless. In fact a study (2001) by Consumers International in India shows that almost half of advertising during children’s programming was for food. A look at a children’s programming today will show that this percentage has increased.

Kids often overrule the parents
Take a peek into the house next door…and you’ll realise that there is something called ‘pester power’ which is wielded by kids…power to which the parents bow down. Research in Mumbai (carried out on 1000 children in the 5-15 age group along with 300 parents) says:

  • 70.7 per cent of the parents submitted to the demands of their children.
  • 74.9 per cent of parents felt that TV ads created ‘unnecessary desires’ for the advertised products in the minds of children.
  • 60.8 per cent of them cribbed about the fact that their monthly expenditure rose because of children’s demands.
  • 72.2 per cent wanted a ban on all ads during children’s programmes.

This research isn’t new but overally there has been very little research on this subject in India..but plenty in developed countries. That is why in some Scandinavian countries, no ads are allowed at all during children’s programmes, or even five minutes before or after the programmes.

A need for statutory regulation?
In India the law does not allow tobacco and alcohol advertising but companies are getting away with surrogate advertising. I guess even with advertising of junk foods the manufacturers would find ways to get round any statutory regulations. Self-regulation will work better in India, with the industry itself keeping a watch on it’s errant members, because if regulations are made, they need to be implemented properly.

In India any statutory regulation would fall under the purview of the I&B (Information & Broadcasting) Ministry. It’s not as if the ministry is not doing anything. They take complaints made to the ministry on advertisements very seriously and issue notices to television channels if they find ads particularly misleading or offensive. And ofcourse they conduct meetings! Plans are afoot to develop regulations based on UK’s Ofcom codes, “with specific sub-sections on children and food advertising…”

Well, as long as codes are implemented properly! And maybe some sort of a code would do good. It would at least prevent some babu sitting in the I&B ministry taking an uninformed and subjective decision regarding what ad to allow and perhaps pocketing a bribe in the bargain!

Update, 10th Nov 07:  The latest news is (sadly) is that the pictorial warnings on tobacco packs will not happen as scheduled on december 1. The lobbying by tobacco firms has worked.

(First photograph is by me while the second one has been linked to it’s original on bbc)

Related Reading: Vegetable and Dal Noodles are not as healthy as the ads claim
Surrogate advertising in India
Do we really need all those consumer durables?
Is the Beauty Care Industry a fraud?
Aggressive advertising by supermarkets

Share this post:digg it|kick it|Email it|bookmark it|reddit|liveIt

27 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2007 9:59 am

    very good move nita! I ,for one, would love to see Detailed, standardized Nutrition Information labels being made compulsory. People should know how many calories, carbs, fat etc. they are consuming.

    Secondly, many people have criticized the tobacco rulings regarding the picture on the cigarette pack. But I really support it and feel that the psychological influence of such pictures cannot be undermined. I would love to see it being implemented.

  2. November 27, 2007 11:34 am

    very well researched
    these days with a diok double inc one kid – sort of situation the kids tend to be spoilt rotten by their guilt ridden parents

    sadly channels like abc (a better community) which i saw off the net are not available for aiding parents.
    my friends almost yr old son is already hooked on to ads which is kinda worrisome
    another thing is lack of social interaction and dying of traditional games like fugdi, kho, sakhli etc in the urban env

  3. November 27, 2007 11:55 am

    Nita:

    Interesting. Also to see how we slice and dice the same information differently (your ‘blade’ is advertising; mine is health so I would have told the same stories very differently).

    1. How was the age of 13 years arrived at and how is the regulation going to be enforced and violations penalised?

    There is a vast body of literature that shows that nearly 50% of all advertising aimed at children is for food and this is true in the US and the UK too.

    Advertising is also part of the story; product placements are a much-used strategy and by weaving the products into soaps (a practice in Spain) the influence of the message can be increased.

    2. India’s food labelling laws are practically non-existent. The same foods when imported to the UK have detailed labels on them suggesting that manufacturers DO label when they are forced or else they cannot sell their products (even Haldiram’s products!)

    I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago about my friend’s 3 kids in Delhi. Labelling played a key role in that discussion and I noted how hard it is to review someone’s diet if we – or they – do not know what on earth they are _really_ eating…

    But what about dietary guidelines first?

    Both these issues of course have been discussed for a long time on my Obesity blog (obesityheadlines.wordpress.com) and if you search for India, you will see how little material was available. I am glad to see now it will be different.

    3. On that visual warning: there is considerable literature in marketing which suggests that the use of fear appeal has its limitations. At a point people switch off and the message is no longer being registered. So I have mixed feelings about this new UK diktat.

    It is important to note that smokers smoke DESPITE knowing the morbidities possibly attached, not because they do not know about them.

    To have a broader impact re smoking, there is something to be said about societal readiness and that has been a slow-burn (sorry!) process in the US and the UK. India is one of the growth markets for tobacco products partly for the vast young population, poor advertising restrictions and vast market size, so this process may just be longer.

    Oh and the last F1 team to have a tobacco sponsor had to remove the logo from its car for Beijing Grand Prix because the race is beamed into countries where tobacco advertising on TV is prohibited. So there is an element of international pressure there too. If India wants to play GP, they have to change the rules in advance, and that may also influence the advertising rules for cigarettes and tobacco products.

    4. BTW we have ZERO tobacco advertising but plenty of direct advertising for alcohol. The Portman Group works closely with the government – much more than food guys – so I do not see any tighter restrictions there coming up soon.

    Alcohol is also woven into the British social fabric and having had too much advice in recent years from a mollycoddling Labour government, I doubt if additional restrictions will be popular. We have 24 hour licensing in pubs and I was surprised by people drinking at 10 am before a football match till I saw a man at the airport drinking beer at 530 am! Now nothing surprises me. We do have a serious and growing binge-drinking problem. Nearly 3/4 of all emergency maxillofacial surgeries in the UK are down to drinking related falls and injuries. Women suffering alcohol related liver disease have increased in numbers by 30% or so in the last some years. It may come – the restrictions – but the story will be great to watch shaping up..

    Thanks for a great post! I am working on a food industry consulting project on global strategies in some areas and this will be, er, great food for thought.🙂

  4. November 27, 2007 12:21 pm

    @Shefaly:

    Thanks. Good to know things from the perspective of someone who lives in the UK.
    About the regulation, well, the ASCI itself will keep a watch but all that will be done is to ask the company to withdraw the ad. Hopefully those companies which are members of the ASCI will not cross the line. About arriving at the age 13, I don’t know…but my guess is that certain products target kids under that age in particular and the advertising is made in such a way as to appeal to that age-group.
    In India alcohol is not socially accepted. I have written a post on it here. It is about the different attitudes towards drinking in India and in the west, and there is info about the increasing consumption of alcohol in India.
    About labeling I have written something on it here. It is not entirely about labeling but about additives in Indian foods and medicines, many of which are disallowed in developed countries.
    Like you, I too am very concerned about health issues and a lot of my posts are on this (though a certain number are on misleading ads), but true, I don’t look at it from the obesity angle. Actually the obesity angle is very important too as I think this is the new plague!
    Sorry to bother you with so many links but no compulsion on you to follow them! Only in case you need some more info.

  5. November 27, 2007 12:24 pm

    Ruhi, thanks. Yes, I agree labeling is most important and in India we are lagging behind terribly in this respect.

    Prax,our childhoods are changing…more tv, more junk food and less games. Which automatically brings down social interaction as well! Ads unfortunately are something that are necessary for disseminating information but they tend to be misused by advertisers.

  6. November 27, 2007 12:28 pm

    Nita: I do not mind links, you know that🙂 And I have read your posts – except the alcohol one – as they were published.

    One of our health ministers – a medical doctor himself – recently was criticised for saying smoking was one of the last affordable pleasures for the poor. Come to think of it, many actually agreed on reflection, although the usual response was outrage…

    Poverty is a common factor in all health related discussions on themes you have outlined in this post. And as for ASCI members not crossing the line, I would not bet on it🙂

  7. November 27, 2007 12:45 pm

    Shefaly: It is important to note that smokers smoke DESPITE knowing the morbidities possibly attached, not because they do not know about them.

    But does it not deter some percentage of wannabe smokers?
    ———————
    If someone thinks that having nutrition information will be sufficient and solve the problem, then think again. For one, consumers have to know how to interpret information on nutrition labels into something tangible (and most consumers do not know this). Second, this labeling process in the US is highly compromised – so instead of making it simpler for customers, the labeling is actually misleading. It’s a never-ending battle where one victory for the consumers will lead to the food industry coming up with another tactic and loophole – for the simple reason that they have zero interest in your and my health – their sole purpose is to sell more of their products.

    Here’s an example: pam4you.com
    According to the nutrition “facts”: for each serving, calories=0, fat cal=0. So, for n servings, calories = 0 x n = 0!!!
    I could drink the entire bottle of Pam containing olive oil and according to them, I’m getting 0 calories. Mind-boggling, eh?🙂
    How do they get away with it? Look at the serving size that says “Serving Size about 1/3 second spray (.266g)” which amounts to 0. But anyone who uses a spray knows that s/he does not depress the button for 1/3 of a second. So, a more meaningful, practical and correct serving size would be the “Serving Size about 3-5 seconds,” and that increases the (.266g) to (.266g)x15 (using 5 sec) which won’t come to zero. But then, they can’t use the big “Fat Free/Low Fat” label that shouts at a customer. Here the customer was actually concerned about his/her fat-intake and went for what made sense based on the nutrition and label info, but boy, is s/he in for a surprise next time s/he steps on the scales. Shopping for food shouldn’t be a minefield like this, nor should it take so much calculation and knowledge to figure it out.

    Another way is that if a serving contains less than 1/2 gram of trans-fat, it can still be labeled as 0 trans-fat. If the serving size is 1 cookie and you ate 3 of them, you just ate 1.47 grams of trans-fat but the label says 0 trans-fat and that’s what you think. Very devious, and excellent use of college degrees – coming up with innovative ways to take people for a ride.😀

    Even the so-called “health foods” are not immune from such deceptive labeling.

    Solution: minimize processed and pre-packaged food, buy fresh vegetables and fruits, eat wide variety of whole grains and prepare your own food. Unbeatable!🙂

    Also check out Navdanya, which is working to promote native/whole grains which are healthier.

  8. November 27, 2007 12:53 pm

    hey thanks for the post. especially the maggi one. i for one had loads of atta noodles assuming it to be actually atta.
    anyways now no more atta!! only ghar ka atta
    i can imagine the influence it would have on children. i mean if i at this age can be duped into such green packings and atta business kids r kids after all
    THANK U

    You are welcome!🙂 – Nita.

  9. November 27, 2007 3:09 pm

    @Amit:

    Thanks for that info! I have seen some of the complicated labels on imported foods but I always assumed that people in Europe and the US were more aware of how to interpret these. But those examples you gave are startling! Having to think twice and re-read everything can become a head-ache and really is quite impossible. Like you said, it’s best not to buy!
    That could have made a really good post Amit!

  10. November 27, 2007 3:24 pm

    @ Amit:

    “But does it not deter some percentage of wannabe smokers?”

    I think you are asking if health messages do not deter at least some. I am sure they do but to back-up this assertion – as to how much they matter or how many they deter – from a cost-benefit point of view, I shall have to dig out more data to answer that question correctly. Suffice it to say however that when many factors act to influence or change individual behaviour, it is hard to separate out the effect of each of them.

    Factors that may have deterred many from smoking in the UK and the US –
    1. age restrictions on buying tobacco products,
    2. restrictions on advertising constantly exhorting consumption,
    3. high taxes making it very expensive to smoke,
    4. large health warnings on packages,
    5. regulation making communal buildings non-smoking forcing smokers out into a social isolation zone,
    6. anti-smoking advertising campaigns with health messages,
    7. influence or coercion from non-smoker friends and family.
    8. emotional triggers in familial situations

    The “health” oriented messages are only a part of this complex ecosystem.

    Nearly all quitting happens with an emotional trigger (take any random 30-40 smokers who quit and ask them what their trigger was). But it is harder to say what makes some people never start smoking. In my case, it was not the health message; it was the sheer stink. My father smoked for over 40 years and as a daddy’s girl, I should have thought it ‘cool’ to smoke. I did not. I constantly broke his cigarettes when I was at home and we fought often about it. I could not stand the smell, still cannot. He quit finally on an emotional trigger involving one of his grandchildren.

    There is ample evidence that suggests that those who start smoking in their younger years find it harder to quit. This is why tobacco companies target younger people. They find this easier to do in places with lax regulation which is why the focus is shifting to places like Bangladesh, China etc where the Virginia Slims line of the yore still has cache, and where health literacy is relatively low. Even in developed countries, smoking is seen as cool and rebellious by many youngsters, a declaration of being “grown up” and they sometimes have help in bypassing age laws. See this:
    telegraph.co.uk

    So overriding factors are too many and controlling them is where the focus of efforts is. I doubt the relative effectiveness is even questioned now.

    On whether some are deterred, in a publicly funded health system the decision demands a strong cost-benefit assessment. Do the prevented premature deaths of smokers and of those who were deterred burden the NHS resources more when they live longer and get sick in advanced years? What happens when we factor in lost tax revenues from fewer and fewer people smoking? I think it is a tricky one to call, don’t you?

  11. November 27, 2007 3:28 pm

    @ Nita:

    “I always assumed that people in Europe and the US were more aware of how to interpret these.”

    It may surprise you but that product label is doing nothing illegal under Federal Laws. The modulation of the information by differences in consumer usage cannot be factored into labelling and related regulation.

    Last summer 100-calorie snack packs started selling in the US. I recall a cartoon I saw in the WSJ. Two women are sitting surrounded by a pile of snack packs – 100 calories per pack yes, how many packets did you eat??

    I think you will find a lot of fodder on labelling on my Obesity blog too.🙂 Comparative regulation and strategy work means my head is full of all this stuff.

  12. November 27, 2007 4:07 pm

    Nita, this is the second post in two days that you’ve published on a topic for which I also have a draft in my blog.🙂 I learned all this at the Boston Veg Food Fest last month, and have the draft kicking around. The dogs won today.

    I always assumed that people in Europe and the US were more aware of how to interpret these.

    Nita, a majority of people in the US suffer from innumeracy. Besides, the way these nutrition labels are set up, one will require a calculator.

    It may surprise you but that product label is doing nothing illegal under Federal Laws.

    Yup. Because the FDA (which officially sets the product labels) and food industries are in collusion, and probably have a revolving door policy.🙂

    Though I’d love to meet the person who decided on the (1/3 of a second spray) as one serving. Maybe s/he cooks with a stop-watch, calculating when 1/3rd of a second is up so that s/he can stop spraying.🙂

  13. November 27, 2007 5:18 pm

    @ Amit:

    “Besides, the way these nutrition labels are set up, one will require a calculator.”

    Same applies in the UK. I use the term ‘aisle arithmetic’.🙂

    “Because the FDA (which officially sets the product labels) and food industries are in collusion, and probably have a revolving door policy”

    All countries have revolving doors. Including the UK and many in Europe.

    And in the collusion remark, you are _partly_ right. Labelling in the US is secondary; because labelling is driven by dietary guidelines which, more ominously, are set by the USDA which deals also with agricultural subsidies and the food growing sector including farming and animal husbandry. The root of the problem lies elsewhere.

    There are no guidelines setting serving sizes. It is individually moderated by consumption preferences. It is difficult to set without the same public screaming ‘nanny state’. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t – so governments don’t. Anyway the dietary guidelines have existed so long – and just look at the US and the UK’s obesity trajectories. Information gives a sense of comfort; but unless used it is not worth the pack it is printed on.

    Here is another perspective:

    The food industry wants you to buy food. They do not have sinister designs on your health. This is why – a healthy customer can live and work and pay for their products over a longer life than a sick person can. Elaborate estimates of the life time value of an average customer drive production and marketing planning in food companies. We make ourselves ill by how we eat..🙂 Some do not even need help from the food industry’s advertising…

  14. November 27, 2007 6:32 pm

    interesting i don’t have any fizzy soft drinks…and well maybe once in a while a lays or something…many ads are misleading too…some are so misleading that well it just goes to show they don’t have ethics…

  15. November 27, 2007 9:42 pm

    Nita,
    I have the following submissions:
    1. This advertising self-regulation is bullshit, only that it is politically correct, and makes good copy. I will believe it when I see these guys put their money on their commitment.
    2. Tobacco addiction is no excuse for consenting to smoke. As Shefaly said, the fear of disease may put off some people, but not others.
    3. Considering that tobacco taxes amount to a huge source of revenue for the Governments, they don’t have the balls to go the whole way and ban it. Why not, if it that bad for your countrymen, ban it, why don’t they?
    4. Children’s programs are not a special sphere for deciding on free speech issues (after all, advertising is a glowing example of this). what the child sees or doesn’t is the responsibility of his or her parents.
    5. Not allowing tobacco or alcohol advertising is hypocritical, immoral and dishonest.

  16. November 27, 2007 9:58 pm

    @rambodoc:

    While I agree to some extent with your points number 3, 4 and even 5, I disagree vehemently with your point number one.
    If you are saying that the companies will go against what they themselves have decided then I don’t agree. True, they might find loopholes but they could have easily not agreed to the rules as the ASCI has not and cannot force them. But companies who are not signatories to the regulation may not fall in line…
    But really, you should read the ASCI site and see the good work they have done. They have managed to get companies to withdraw ads even though the ASCI does not have the teeth that the ASA (the UK body) has, but they do have some clout.
    I have worked in the Indian ad industry for more than 5 years I can say that there are companies who have a social conscience. Also, those who are part of the ASCI, and have formulated the rules will stick to it…it’s more of a honour thing.

    And coming round to your point number 2, well addiction may not be an ‘excuse’ but the fact is that there are weak people in this world and they need help. But I guess your world view is ‘survival of the fittest’ and therefore I guess we will basically disagree.

  17. November 27, 2007 10:33 pm

    Shefaly: There are no guidelines setting serving sizes. It is individually moderated by consumption preferences. It is difficult to set without the same public screaming ‘nanny state’. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t – so governments don’t.

    Probably true. But that still doesn’t explain 1/3 of a second.🙂

  18. November 27, 2007 11:48 pm

    @ Rambodoc:

    “Considering that tobacco taxes amount to a huge source of revenue for the Governments, they don’t have the balls to go the whole way and ban it. Why not, if it that bad for your countrymen, ban it, why don’t they?”

    Another reason is that absolute bans or negative categorisation such as for class A, B, C drugs push things underground. We have enough underground trouble don’t we? Why add tobacco to the mix? While it remains over-ground we can regulate it.

    @ Amit: There is no logic but have you seen serving size suggestions on other products? Seeing some Americans I think they believe the whole pack is the serving size!

    I was astounded last year to see that in a posh restaurant in Georgetown the smallest steak was 16 oz. The most I have ever put away is 6 oz. That entire meal with 16 oz steak, chips, cheese and veggies was 3200 calories which is 3 times what I eat in a day (given my size, age, build and BMR).

    So lets get it in perspective🙂 Americans spend over 60% of their food budget outside home. That product is barely going to be used anyway so all we are engaging in is some academic discussion – which I think dietary guidelines in America are too in some ways. Oh wait, those are fiction…

    PS – what time zone are you in? Do you ever go to bed? Or do you have an audio ping to wake up and keep typing?🙂

  19. November 27, 2007 11:52 pm

    @ Nita: On your response to RDoc:

    “If you are saying that the companies will go against what they themselves have decided then I don’t agree.”

    That is what evidence shows after food companies ‘self regulated’ for a long time in Europe and in the US. Unless there is a Damoclean threat of regulation, food companies do not give a rat’s arse about control…

    “…well addiction may not be an ‘excuse’ but the fact is that there are weak people in this world and they need help. ”

    Regulation is not to help weak people. It is to help correct failure of market forces and informational asymmetries. Weakness in the face of so much informational onslaught is basically a complex product of an individual’s choice aided by the addictive nature of the product…

  20. November 28, 2007 7:43 am

    @Shefaly:

    I don’t agree ofcourse. Can you give me some actual examples where companies who have formulated the regulations themselves have broken them? I am willing to be corrected but only with proof.
    And I am not talking of finding loophooles, I mean actually went against them? Because I a quite sure that rdoc is wrong, being familiar with the ways and means that companies find to break regulations.
    Also to my mind regulation is to help weak people. That is how I justify it in my mind. Obviously governments will think of it differently…although when you say say that regulation is to “correct failure of market forces and informational asymmetries’ maybe I’m dumb but it went completely over my head. I would never put it like that, to express my point of view even though i it’s clear that ‘market forces’ are involved and need to be controlled to help the vulnerable. Actually even though I have studied management jargon was something which I shied away from…probably because I never understood it!

  21. November 28, 2007 11:00 am

    Your article was very informative. Thanks🙂

  22. November 28, 2007 12:53 pm

    Nita:

    “Can you give me some actual examples where companies who have formulated the regulations themselves have broken them?”

    I did not say they break them; they just do not go far enough with self-regulation. Which means self-regulation, while a good PR tool, has not been shown as effective.

    This ‘not going far enough’ happens because of many reasons not least that all food companies do not always agree with one another. So the industry is not a blob, it is made up of discrete entities with different strategic priorities and need not agree with one another.

    Even governments prefer self-regulation because the burden of enforcing regulations and punishing violations is too much in cost and resource terms.

    In Europe, the EC first threatened the food industry with regulation and they said we prefer to self-regulate. We saw changes like Kraft reducing salt in their cheeses (Kraft cheeses in Europe are less salty than the same in their home country, USA, which suggests that the threat of regulation makes companies do things differently.) I think this was way back in 2002 or 2003.

    Then in 2005, the EC said self-regulate ads or else.

    Now in 2007, there is a clearer threat made to the industry by the EC

    privatehealth.co.uk/food industry obesity

    So there is plenty of evidence that companies do not go far enough with self-regulation. Even when it comes to labelling, only 40% of the industry association members in the UK use the association’s GDA standard; rest go with the government-prescribed labelling. As they say in the US: go figger!

    Market forces per se are not a bad thing; it is when consumers either do not care to or do not have access to information that problems arise (not very dissimilar to the to-vote and how-to-vote decisions). So labelling schemes are essentially helping correct such ‘information asymmetries’ for consumers. However the availability of this information does not mean that it will get used – if everyone read labels and ate responsibly, we would have far fewer obese people than we do in the UK and the US. Individuals make their own choices and the government cannot do any more to ‘protect the weak’ from their own choices. Can it? Without being labelled tyrannical or nanny-state?

    Thanks.

  23. November 28, 2007 2:22 pm

    @Shefaly:

    Well, in a country like India laws don’t always work because of poor implementation which you are aware of, particularly laws related to these ‘soft’ issues. There are a myriad reasons for this, ranging from poor police work, shortage of police, poor judiciary and more urgent and pressing issues.
    Self regulation will work much better here. In relation to advertising I mean. If you say that self regulation has it’s limitations – ofcourse, there is no argument with that.
    You said that companies do not agree with one another…but I have cited an instance where they have agreed and as I said I am speaking of the members of the ASCI who have already agreed.
    Also I did not say that market sources are a bad thing. I said it’s a different way of expressing it. Governments put it in different, more holistic ways. I was speaking of what I think is the end-result. I have a rather ‘simple’ way of speaking.🙂

  24. November 28, 2007 2:37 pm

    Nita:

    “.. I have cited an instance where they have agreed and as I said I am speaking of the members of the ASCI who have already agreed.”

    An industry association presents a statement as an agreement because that is its job. If you look at the Food & Drinks Federation website in the UK re their GDA labelling, they present it as the association’s agreed point of view. That does not mean that all members are following it or intend to follow it. As I mentioned a majority is _not_ following that agreed stance. There is a subtle difference between agreeing to a statement and taking it on as a strategic stance and implementing it.

    The ASCI code by the way is a typical example of unenforceable fluff that looks more wonderful than it really is or can be in practice. What does ‘truthfulness and honesty’ really mean?

    Secondly, you say: “in a country like India laws don’t always work because of poor implementation which you are aware of, particularly laws related to these ’soft’ issues. There are a myriad reasons for this, ranging from poor police work, shortage of police, poor judiciary and more urgent and pressing issues. Self regulation will work much better here.”

    In practice, exactly the opposite happens.

    Companies self-regulate not because they have a benign desire to do good but because they know if they do not self-regulate, they will face regulation.

    In an environment where there is no implicit threat of effective regulation – such as in the US and following your argument, in India – companies get away with a lot more even while mouthing arguments about self-regulation.

    And I have to disagree on ‘governments put it in more holistic ways’ too. I advise the EC and many other policy makers. I also advise some for-profit companies and naturally see their government relations management practices.

    Regulations/ policies are outcomes of protracted negotiations between interests. There is some evidence, some logic but those are not the dominant forces driving the regulation-making process at all. The resources, scale and volume of vocal interest groups dominate the process, for better or for worse.

    Thanks.

  25. November 28, 2007 2:48 pm

    @Shefaly:

    Well if you say it’s the majority which decides, ofcourse. But I think our discussion is getting too theoritical. This is a first for India and I do believe that the members of the ASCI will keep to their word.
    You say:
    //In an environment where there is no implicit threat of effective regulation – such as in the US and following your argument, in India – companies get away with a lot more even while mouthing arguments about self-regulation.//
    I am not sure why you mentioned the US (but I am not familiar with what happens there) but in India these companies are not “mouthing arguments” I am afraid. They have actually signed a code. But again as I mentioned this is a purely theoritical argument. Each country is different as I am sure you will agree…and the next 2-3 years will tell us if the ASCI members will break the Code they have signed. This self-regulation is a break-through for India and I am indeed proud of it and I believe it is a great start…in the sense they will start with these few companies who are members and will get others into their fold.
    about your advising the EC, well, I am certainly not in that league and cannot speak with certainity about European issues.

  26. December 1, 2007 12:57 pm

    hey nita, amit, shefaly, rambodoc,
    the article was definitely informative but the comments were all the more so.

    it was nice to go through such heated debates!

Trackbacks

  1. How to read Nutrition Facts Labels? « Xntric pundits

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: