Israeli Government Panel Urges Ban on Ads for 'Unwholesome' Food Directed at Children

A Health Ministry committee wants limits on advertising to adults, while proposing that manufacturers be required to gradually reduce the sugar, salt and fat content of their products by reformulating them.

Illustration: Unhealthy foods on display in an Israeli supermarket.No credit

A Health Ministry committee recommended Thursday that ads for “unwholesome” food directed at children be banned and those for adults be subject to restrictions.

The Committee to Regulate Healthy Diets also proposed that manufacturers be required to gradually reduce the sugar, salt and fat content of their products by reformulating them.

Products that meet the Health Ministry’s minimum standards for saturated fat, sodium and sugar content will have a green symbol on the front of their packaging. Eventually, packaging on products that don’t meet the standard will need some sort of negative symbol.

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov, who chaired the panel, said the labeling requirements will be “the biggest incentive for reformulating products – and that’s the most important thing of all.”

The panel also said the government should create mechanisms to ensure that the price of healthier alternatives is lowered. The committee stopped short of adopting the most draconian measures it was considering to impose a tax on food deemed unwholesome. But it said the government should revisit the idea in the future.

The report comes as Health Minister Yaakov Litzman wages a war against food he calls unhealthy, and amid plummeting sales of popular products like prepared salads and processed meats that have been attacked as unhealthy.

A series of recalls over issues in salmonella-tainted food over the summer further undermined confidence in the food industry and caused many consumers to shun products made by the big companies.

On Thursday, a source in the food industry said the sector could live with most of the recommendations. “I would call the committee’s recommendations a victory for manufacturers,” said the executive, who asked not to be identified.

“We wanted the requirement to improve the mix of our ingredients to be gradual, and that’s what we got,” he said. “The most problematic proposal is the ban on the advertising and marketing of unwholesome food to children, but I don’t think it will work in legislative terms and I’m guessing it will never come to fruition, definitely not in a wide-ranging way.”

Litzman formed the committee in February, around the time he angered McDonald’s by citing its offerings as unhealthy food, and the ministry launched ads urging Israelis to shun snacks and soft drinks.

The ban on advertising to children – defined as those up to age 13 – will apply to food with unacceptable levels of fat, sugar and sodium. It will cover television, billboards, the internet and live marketing campaigns.

For ads directed at teens 14 and over, the committee recommended that they contain mandatory warnings about high sugar, fat and salt content.

The recommendations must be approved by the health minister and then be passed as legislation in the Knesset.