Bai Wrongheaded Approach on Cheese Advertising More Likely to Damage Than Improve Children’s Diets – Kiersey

Commenting on the second consultation document on advertising of certain foods to children, published today (Friday) by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), IFA National Dairy Committee Chairman Kevin Kiersey said the BAI was wrongheaded in failing to exempt cheese and in persisting with classifying it as less healthy for children than diet cola.

Mr Kiersey said that, as parents, dairy farmers were just as concerned as anyone by the increased incidence of obesity in children. However, the BAI’s approach on cheese lacks any credibility, and is more likely to damage than improve children’s diets.

“The BAI’s suggestion that cheese should be treated the same way for advertising purposes as junk foods such as confectionary, crisps or sugary soft drinks, and that it is somehow less healthy than diet cola, is based on poor methodology and flawed analyses, and is fundamentally wrong. We further doubt that the BAI’s proposed approach would actually help improve children’s diets. We have outlined in detail our objections to the BAI’s approach in our October 2011 submission on this topic,” Mr Kiersey said.

“Cheese provides a concentrated source of calcium – an element lacking from many children’s and teenagers’ diets – and many other valuable nutrients. The value of dairy and cheese in children’s diets is well documented, and both the FSAI and the Department of Health recommend 3 to 5 portions of dairy products a day for children and teenagers. Low or full fat cheese, in moderate portion sizes, must be part of the options available to parents and kids as part of a balanced diet,” he said.

“Recent studies have clearly shown that the prevalence of obesity among the under 18 has increased in the last 15 years, but that cheese consumption in this age group has remained stable and is in fact substantially less than the recommended daily portion of 28 grammes.  There is no link between the incidence of overweight in Irish children and cheese consumption, and therefore no justification for the demonization of cheese by the BAI,” Mr Kiersey said.

“I am deeply concerned that by categorising cheese as being less healthy for children than diet cola, and associating it in consumers’ minds with junk foods, the BAI’s proposals will not only confuse parents at home in their genuine effort to provide a healthy diet for their kids, it will also damage seriously the reputation of a nutritious, healthful product on our export markets,” he added.

“In the Food Harvest 2020 report, Government has set out a target of 50% growth for the dairy sector in the next 10 years, in order to grow domestic and most of all export earnings from the industry for the greater good of the Irish economy. A substantial part of this expansion will likely rely on developing new, greater value-added products, including cheeses. Indeed, a €1.5m investment in research and development has just been entered into by the Irish Dairy Board in co-operation with Teagasc for this very purpose,” he said.

“In this context, restricting the legitimate marketing activity of the industry is totally unacceptable, as well as unjustified. The BAI must go back to the drawing board, and instead of demonising cheese engage with advertisers and broadcasters to promote the importance of a balanced, healthy diet and an active lifestyle,” he concluded.

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