The website, Observatório de Publicidade de Alimentos (OPA) or Food Advertising Observatory, went live this Monday on April Fools’ day (April 1) - a nod to the ‘deceitful’ tactics of food companies, IDEC said.
Individuals can submit examples of adverts they have seen on TV, radio, internet, billboards, product labels or elsewhere that they believe to breach the Brazilian Consumer Protection Code or other rules aimed at protecting the consumer.
A committee of lawyers, nutritionists, and other experts will analyze all complaints submitted via the OPA platform and determine whether they should be referred to the relevant authorities to be followed up.
Reporting will be 'easier and faster'
Ana Paula Bortoletto, head of IDEC’s Healthy Eating campaigns, said the site was not intended to replace official complaint channels but to increase visibility and make it easier for consumers to make complaints.
"This tool will make reporting easier and faster,” she said. “We will evaluate the cases received and select the ones that are most relevant or recurrent to refer to the competent authorities. It is very important that civil society is attentive and participatory, especially when it finds that their rights are not being respected.”
According to a document on Brazil’s dietary guidelines published by the Ministry of Health, more than two-thirds of the food and drink adverts broadcast on television are for ‘ultra-processed’ products, high in salt, fat and sugar and poor in nutrients.
IDEC said that food companies’ marketing tactics make consumers, especially children, and adolescents, believe these products are healthier than they are.
"We already have laws that protect the population from illegal marketing practices, but it is still very common to find cases that exaggerate the nutritional quality of products, use child characters or images that can mislead the consumer and make it difficult to choose healthy foods,” Bortoletto said. “Supporting the supervision of food advertising also means promoting the health and well-being of all of us.”
The OPA was launched by IDEC with the support of other associations, including ACT Health Promotion, the Alliance for Adequate and Healthy Food, IBFAN Brasil (International Network in Defense of the Right to Breastfeed), and the Federal University of Santa Catarina’s department of nutrition research and food production.
The OPA differentiates between ‘misleading’ and ‘abusive’ advertising:
Misleading advertising contains information that is wholly or partially false, and capable of misleading the consumer over the nature, characteristics, quality, quantity, properties, origin or price of the product or service in question.
Discriminatory advertising incites violence, exploits fear or superstition takes advantage of a child's judgment and inexperience, disrespects environmental values, or is capable of inducing the consumer to behave in a manner that is abusive, harmful or dangerous to his or her health or safety.
Past examples: Danone, Mondelez & McDonald's
The OPA website gives several examples of misleading and abusive advertising, taken from past cases.
In 2017, for instance, Brazil’s regulatory authority ANVISA found Mondelez Brazil in breach of the consumer code over its Tang powder soft drink. The front of the packaging stated it contained ‘no artificial colors’ – but failed to mention the other artificial ingredients and color additives. Mondelez was fined R$1 million for misleading claims.
A 2008 case involved Danone’s Activia yogurt range, which was deemed to be making misleading health claims. ANVISA stated in its ruling: “The advert […] induced the consumer [to believe] the intake of the product was the definitive solution to the problem of intestinal constipation - when, in fact, it only contributed to the balance of the intestinal flora.”
Fast food giant, McDonald’s, meanwhile was found guilty of ‘abusive’ advertising in 2018 over a publicity campaign in which the company’s mascot, Ronald McDonald, performed plays in schools.
McDonald’s claimed the plays were educational and did not directly encourage children to eat its food but the department of consumer protection at Brazil’s Ministry of Justice saw otherwise. McDonald’s was banned from performing the play in schools and ordered to pay a R$6m fine.