16 January 2007, 15:54 PM
  • New advertising rules, which brand cheese as junk food, are causing controversy in the industry

The new regulations, introduced this month by the television regulator, Ofcom, will ban broadcasters from advertising cheese during children’s TV programmes, or shows with a large number of child viewers. However, the new rules are being criticised as “dietary nannying gone mad” by Anthony Gibson, director of the National Farming Union. He says the rules would be “thoroughly unhelpful to farmers” at a time when the dairy industry had been going through a very difficult 12 months. “Any wounds inflicted by our own authorities we can very well do without,” said Devon-based Mr Gibson. “It is not going to do anything to encourage the sales of cheese.”

The new advertising rules are part of a Government clampdown on junk-food advertising, aimed at reducing the exposure of children to food high in fat, salt and sugar. The ban comes in the wake of evidence that television commercials have an indirect influence on what children eat and are contributing to obesity in the young.

The Food Standards Agency used a nutrient profiling model to distinguish junk food from healthy food, which officially labelled cheese as more unhealthy than sugary cereals, full-fat crisps and cheeseburgers. It assessed the fat, sugar and salt content in a 100g or 100ml serving of food or drink. However, Nigel White, secretary of the British Cheese Board, commented, “The problem is that they [FSA criteria] are [based on] nutrients per 100 grammes, whereas the average serving size for cheese is about 35 grammes and on average children eat 15 grammes.

“Cheese is not a junk food; it’s a nutrient dense food that we’ve been eating safely for 1000s of years.”

Banning the advertising of cheeses during programmes designed for children has also been described as a “bonkers” idea, by Mary Quicke, of Quicke’s Traditional Cheese. She said, “It’s really quite difficult to design a diet with the right amount of calcium without a decent amount of cheese in it. It [cheese] is about a third fat, but it’s about the same as a lamb chop without the fat, or a portion of roast beef or a portion of chicken leg, without the skin.”