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Food firms seek to rebuild trust with labeling, ad pledge

PARIS (Reuters) - The world's top food and drink companies announced a raft of measures on Wednesday to try to improve the industry's image, including stopping advertising junk food to children by 2018, harmonizing nutritional labeling and fighting deforestation.

The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), an industry network of some 400 retailers, manufacturers and other players from 70 countries with combined sales of 2.5 trillion euros ($3.4 trillion), agreed the commitments at its annual summit in Paris.

"It is not business as usual anymore. Pressure is mounting from all sides and angles," Paul Bulcke, chief executive of Nestle, the world's biggest food and drink firm behind brands such as Kit-Kat and Nescafe, told the meeting.

"We need to show them we are a responsive and responsible industry, now more than ever."

Food manufacturers and retailers have come under mounting pressure in recent years over their role in a range of issues from the global obesity epidemic, to climate change and deforestation due to the growth of palm oil production.

The steps announced on Wednesday included a commitment to stop targeting advertising to children under 12 years by 2018 of products that fail to meet certain nutrition criteria and to introduce industry-wide labeling by 2018 to help consumers make healthier food choices.

Bulcke said the CGF board also agreed that members would make company policies on nutrition and product formulation public by 2016.

The CGF promised its members would aim for zero net deforestation by 2020 through the more sustainable sourcing of key commodities and begin phasing out hydro fluorocarbons, blamed for contributing to global warming, in new refrigeration units by 2015.

In 2011, top U.S. food and drink makers including Coca-Cola and Kellogg Co agreed to industry-created voluntary nutrition guidelines for products marketed towards children under the age of 12. But the food, beverage and restaurant industries as a whole have successfully fought most government oversight on food advertising to children.

In October 2013, U.S. legislation was proposed that would require uniform front-of-package food labels in a move to streamline labels and clarify certain claims on nutrition.

In Europe, regulations that go into effect in December 2014 change existing legislation on food labeling that would require nutrition information on processed foods, origin labeling of unprocessed meat, the highlighting of allergens such as peanuts and better legibility.

($1 = 0.7383 euro)

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson and Martinne Geller; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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