Can You Spot The Junk Food In This Ad? TfL Could

1st March 2019

To combat childhood obesity, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has enforced a ban on junk food advertising across London’s public transport network, which we fully support. But is it really a ban on junk food as we know it? This is what happened when Farmdrop submitted advertising posters showing free-range butter and eggs from local farmers.   

A step in the right direction

Preventing brands from aggressively advertising junk food to children on the transport network is a step in the right direction and we fully support it. The link between heavily processed junk foods and obesity is well established and recent studies suggest that diet-related diseases like diabetes are rising among children, which is hugely concerning. The majority of Londoners support the decision as well, including respected figures in the food industry like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Farmdrop ads include so-called ‘junk foods’

But while the ban is coming from the right place, it’s handling has been clumsy. We know this because our latest campaign on the tube network has been rejected. Why? Because our Farmdrop posters include so-called ‘junk foods’. This is the photo in question.

The original advert we submitted to Transport for London.


The TfL definition of junk food

Junk foods are highly calorific foods with little or no nutritional value. We all know which foods we mean here. It’s the highly-processed stuff, crisps, fizzy drinks, chocolate bars and sweets which we occasionally indulge in. What you probably wouldn’t think they include are eggs and butter. Well you’d be wrong. We were told by TfL’s sales agent, Exterion, that these foods were not ‘high fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS) compliant’. We ended up cropping the photo but even this wasn’t compliant with the new regulations.

A cropped version of the photo was rejected because it was ‘High Fat Sugar and Salt compliant’.


Farmdrop applied for an exception to the rule but the decision won’t be made soon enough for this campaign. In the end, we’ve had to crop the butter and eggs out completely as you can see below.  

The final version with all the offending products cropped out.


The contradictions in the junk food ad ban

Naturally, we were pretty shocked that a picture of some fresh groceries with a healthy mixture of fruits and vegetables, dairy, eggs and cupboard staples would flout TfL’s new junk food rules. But it turns out that TfL score foods individually according to a nutrient profiling model created by the Government. It’s a pretty crude measure and means that foods you would still think of as junk, like fizzy drinks with artificial sweeteners or low-fat fried foods, could in some scenarios comply with the new regulations. 

Take McDonald’s. Last year, the fast-food chain was allowed to run a Happy Meal advert during children’s television and it passed the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA’s) standards for healthy food, which are the same standards TfL are now using for the junk food ban. According to the ASA, a McDonald’s Happy Meal is not a junk food product because 80% of the mains, and 100% of the sides are non-HFSS. But swapping out sugar for a sweetener or fruit for chips, doesn’t detract from the fact that this is still a fast food company promoting meals with fried foods to kids.

A missed opportunity

We fully support the Mayor of London’s decision to prohibit junk food advertising on the transport network but we’re concerned about how it’s being applied. We hope that TfL sees some sense and starts to apply the ban with a little better judgement. 


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