McDonald’s sugary drink accepted as part of the ‘fruits and vegetables’ food group in U.K.

Shine On

Is drinking a cup of fizzy fruit juice the same as eating an apple or carrot? If you're at a McDonald's in England, the answer is apparently yes, because a controversial ad claiming the McDonald's drink Fruitizz is the equivalent to a portion of fruit has been cleared as acceptable by the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The McDonald's commercial in question has come under fire of late for describing the a fizzy drink made from fruit juice concentrate as "one of your child's five-a-day," a reference to the British healthy eating initiative that encourages citizens to eat five portions of fruits or vegetables a day.

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So is Fruitizz a fruit? While it is made from fruit juice concentrate, it still contains about six teaspoons of sugar per 250ml serving, reports the Daily Mail. But despite complaints that the ad is misleading, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has cleared the commercial, saying that the additional natural flavourings and preservatives in the drink "did not negate the five-a-day benefits of that 150ml of fruit juice, providing the entire 250ml serving was consumed."

The "5-a-Day" campaign was rolled out in Britain a decade ago, with the honourable aim of increasing the public's fruit and vegetable intake and reducing rates of obesity, heart disease and cancer.

But according to an investigation earlier this year by British broadcaster Channel 4, the 5-a-day message has been co-opted by the food industry to promote foods high in salt, fat and sugar.

The guidelines state that fresh produce and frozen, tinned, juiced and dried fruit and veggies are all part of the 5-a-Day program, and there is a special logo sticker that can be affixed to items that fit within those boundaries. The problem is that there are no rules to prevent food producers from simply putting the words "5-a-Day" on whatever they like. As a result, the words can be found on pre-made sausage, bean and chip meals, because the beans and tomato add up to a portion of vegetables.

It appears to be a flawed system, and things aren't much better south of the border, where last year the U.S. House of Representatives ruled that a slice of pizza qualifies as as vegetable, just so long as it has two teaspoons of tomato paste on it.

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So what is the state of affairs here in Canada? Are we any better at protecting our children from fast food giants and manufacturers than our American and British friends?

"Our situation here in Canada is kind of unique," says Janet Feasby, says the vice-president of standards at Advertising Standards Canada (ASC).

She says that when it comes to advertising to children under 12, there are a number strict codes and standards that keep questionable health claims and manipulative advertising away from the ears and eyes of babes.

Feasby explains that in Canada, food advertising is governed by both the Food and Drug Act and the Canadian Food Inspection's Guide to Food Labelling. The ASC clears the scripts of food advertisements to make sure they adhere to both the act and the guide.

If you want to advertise specifically to little ones, you must also follow the Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children, which sets strict standards for what can and cannot be said in advertising directed at kids. Commercials for children must also be approved by committees that contain actual bonafide parents, along with other stakeholders.

"The combination of the system of food regulations and the broadcast code for advertising to kids means we get almost no complaints about advertising to children," says Feasby.

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But it doesn't stop there. There is also the Canadian Children's Food and Beverage Initiative, a voluntary commitment by 19 major food and beverage producers including McDonald's to market only healthy foods to children.

"It's a public commitment," says Feasby. "Anyone can see the products that McDonald's has decided will be advertised to kids."

It's true: according to their online Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative Commitment statement, McDonald's has promised to only advertise meals to children that provide "no more than 600 calories; and no more than 35% of calories from fat, 10% of calories from saturated fat, and no more than 25% total energy from added sugar."

So while here in Canada we still have hundreds of McDonald's and other fast food giants toting burgers, fries, and other unhealthy food choices, we can at least take comfort in the knowledge that they're not allowed to push sugary drinks on our children under the pre-tense that they're carrots.