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Key changes in Belgian advertising rules: What you need to know if you are active in food, automotive or detergents sectors

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Three new or updated advertising codes recently came into force in Belgium, covering food, automotive and detergents sectors in order to face notably health and green concerns.  

These new or adapted rules will have a decisive influence on how advertising for these products has to be carried out. You will find below an overview of the recent key changes in the Belgian advertising sector. 

Advertising and self-regulation

The Jury for Ethical Advertising (JEP) is the self-regulatory body of the advertising sector in Belgium. Its mission is to ensure fair, decent, truthful, legal and socially responsible advertising. 

Consumers and consumers associations can file complaints before the JEP. The latter cannot issue fines or award damages but can issue recommendations, advices and injunctions to stop or modify any advertising broadcasted in Belgium. 

The JEP bases its advices and decisions (i) on legal provisions (trade practices legislation (Economic Code of Law), specific legislations by category of products and services,…) and (ii) on self-disciplinary provisions (codes, rules, recommendations). 

As a consequence, self-regulation is particularly significant in the advertising sector in Belgium and it is therefore important to keep up with all the new rules regarding advertising. 

1.    New Food Advertising Code  - Children audience 

A new Food Advertising Code entered into force on 1st June 2023. The new rules apply to all food companies and traders advertising their food and beverage products on the Belgian market.

Such Code includes notably the restrictions adopted by the “Belgian Pledge” a few years ago. The latter is a self-regulatory initiative composed currently of 53 companies. It has committed itself to limiting marketing addressed to children to products meeting specific nutritional criteria.

In addition, the Code goes beyond the rules of the Belgian Pledge in 3 areas: 

  • The age limit that determines whether companies can advertise to children will be raised from under 12 to under 13 ; 
  • The rules apply to all programs where at least 30% of the target audience is made up of children under 13 (compared with 35% at present).
  • Stricter criteria apply to continue advertising on all kinds of meat products, cookies (sweet and salty), cakes and cereal bars. As it was already the case for soft drinks and sugar-based products (including chocolate), companies will no longer be allowed to advertise ice creams and potato chips to children.

2.    Update of the FEBIAC Code on advertising of motor vehicles

As of 1st May 2023, an update to the FEBIAC Code on advertising for motor vehicles came into force.

FEBIAC is the federation that represents manufacturers and importers of road transport equipment in Belgium and Luxembourg.

The provisions of the FEBIAC Code, already applied for several years by the JEP, have now been reinforced on the following points : 

  • Advertising may not contain slogans or absolute statements that are likely to mislead the consumer as to the properties and characteristics of the vehicle or its effects on the environment; 
  • The Code now includes a provision requiring the mention of the electricity consumption of electric vehicles ; 
  • In addition, the updated FEBIAC Code stipulates that the consumption of 100% electric vehicles must be stated in kWh/100 km.

3.    New advertising Code for the detergents sector and greenwashing 

Since February 2023, the detergents sector has a specific advertising and commercial communication code.

This Code regulates the claims made for detergents and household cleaning products, in order to improve market quality and combat greenwashing.

In particular, it contains specific considerations on efficacy claims, product safety claims, environmental and sustainability claims and packaging claims. 

With regard to environmental and sustainability claims, the Code sets out a series of criteria for the use of certain terms. For example: 

  • The term “natural” can only be used if the product comes directly from the nature and has not been manufactured ; 
  • The use of the term "organic" can only be used if it refers to one or more ingredients or a percentage of ingredients whose organic origin is certified by a relevant scientific method, a European regulation or a relevant document;
  • The prefix "eco" can mean "ecological", "economical" or "ecological and economical", thus referring to savings in energy, water, products, etc. The meaning given to this prefix must therefore be sufficiently explicit to avoid creating doubt in the mind of the average consumer.

This new Code must also be combined with more general regulations and guidelines concerning environmental claims in general and greenwashing. 

These include notably the guidelines from the FPS Economy on the use or environmental claims (available in French and in Dutch) as well as the Environmental Advertising Guidelines issued by the JEP (available in French and in Dutch). 

Moreover, in March 2023, the European Commission adopted a Proposal for a Directive on Green Claims. The proposal will complement other EU instruments like the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive by setting specific rules on the substantiation, verification and communication of voluntary environmental claims and environmental labelling schemes on the EU market. This upcoming will also have to be taken into account within the coming years. 

Consequently, it is important for your company / advertising agency to take these changes into consideration and possibly adapt your future advertising campaigns to make sure that they are compliant with these new rules. 

We can assist you in such process.