Food and drink companies escaped a possible regulatory hurdle when EU and US health officials announced they would not force companies to take measures against obesity.
Though obesity is a growing concern, food firms won't face new regulations
European and US health officials decided not to impose regulations on the food and drinks industry similar to those faced by tobacco companies.
"The business has to be there for healthy food," Deputy US Health Secretary Alex Azar told Reuters news service. "If there's not a business case for it, it won't happen."
Unlike tobacco firms, which have faced ever tighter restrictions on the sale and advertising of their products because of health concerns, food companies will be left to their own devices -- despite concern that obesity is becoming a serious threat world wide.
Soft-drink makers will advertise -- just not to young children
Food and drink companies breathed a sigh of relief when, after a meeting in Brussels, European Union Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou and the US's Azar told Reuters they would allow the industry to regulate itself.
Tasty is as tasty does
"The government can't tell someone what to eat," Azar told Reuters television. "They can't say that something is tasty if it's not tasty."
Last Friday, the United States and the EU launched an "obesity platform" which calls on stakeholders such as companies, health experts and consumer groups to finds ways to combat obesity.
Volu n tary advertiseme n t ba n
As part of this, soft drinks makers on both sides of the Atlantic had already committed to a voluntary ban on advertisements aimed at children.
Nine companies including Coca-Cola, Cadbury Schweppes and PepsiCo, have agreed to the ban advertising media aimed at children under age 12.
The problem of obesity in Europe and the US is growing
The food industry's European umbrella group welcomed the news.
"Industry does not forget that authorities can still regulate and this is an excellent stimulus for us to do this properly," said a spokesman for the Confederation of Food and Drink Industries, which represents companies such as Unilever and Coca-Cola.
EU food industry group CAOBISCO, which represents firms including Cadbury Schweppes and Nestle, said the public needed to be educated about the issue, rather than focusing on the companies.
"It is not about good or bad food, but about good and bad diet," CAOBISCO general secretary David Zimmer said.
Obesity -- a huge issue
Three-hundred million adults worldwide are technically obese or overweight, including 14 million in the 25-nation EU. Of the total, more than 3 million are children, a figure that is increasing at a rate of 400,000 a year.
The European Parliament will vote on Tuesday on new rules regulating health nutrition claims on food and drink products.
If the Parliament agrees, from 2007 products will require clear definitions for claims such as "low fat," "high fiber" and "reduces cholesterol." At present, the only barriers relate to weight-loss claims made on diet products.