House sets new age limit in food advertising bill

Amendments to Bill S-228 define children as under 13 and adds a review after five years, but the ACA is pushing for more changes.

A Senate bill that would prohibit the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children has been amended as it continues to make its way through the House of Commons.

Bill S-228, also known as The Child Health Protection Act, was introduced by Senator Nancy Greene Raine in December 2015 and would ban the advertising of certain foods and drinks to children under a certain age in an effort to reduce obesity rates in Canada.

On Tuesday, the House of Commons Health Committee amended the bill, making official the changes that were proposed by the Liberal government in December last year.

The amendments include changing the definition of children to under the age of 13 rather than under the age of 17, which could help the government avoid the possibility of a future legal challenge. In December, Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson said setting the age limit at 17 could be challenged under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In addition, the amendments include a review after five years to study the effect of the legislation to determine whether or not it has resulted in a significant shift in food marketing towards those aged 13 to 16 years old, who are “also vulnerable to marketing and its persuasive influence over their food preferences and consumption,” according to the bill.

In a statement, Raine said she supports the changes to S-228. “The goal of the bill: child health protection by prohibiting the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children has not changed,” she said.

Ron Lund, president of Association of Canadian Advertisers, appeared before the House of Commons Health Committee on April 23, along with Chris Williams, the ACA’s VP of digital.

At the meeting, Lund said the ACA supports the government’s objective of reducing obesity through restrictions on advertising. However, Lund said that even with the proposed age amendment, the bill would capture a much broader audience than intended – namely adults – and could have a “serious economic impact.” He cited numbers from an ACA economic analysis that showed the proposed regulations could reduce advertising revenues in Canada by between $860 million and $1.1 billion per year, including $300 million to the broadcasting industry.

“It is really important to realize that the promised amendment to define children under 13 actually has very little impact on these numbers,” Lund said.

The ACA’s own list of proposed amendments have included defining children as under 13 and replacing the bill’s references to “unhealthy food” with the term “foods high in” things like sugars, saturated fat and sodium. It has also asked to change the law’s coming into force date to Dec. 14, 2022 (instead of two years after the law is passed) to be consistent with other parts of Health Canada’s “healthy eating” strategy.

Bill S-228 has returned to the House for a third reading. If adopted, it will then return to the Senate for final approval before becoming law.