The UK's Food & Drink Federation (FDF) has slammed a Which? report condemning the food industry's use of cartoon "villains" in targeting unhealthy food at children.

The report, The Cartoon Villains are Still Getting Away with It, by consumer association Which? has called on the industry to tighten its self-regulatory codes after research by the group found they contained loopholes allowing cartoon characters to market unhealthy foods to children.

Among the characters being targeted for pushing foodstuffs high in fat, salt and sugar are Tony the Tiger, Pom-Bear, Moo the Dairylea cow and Snap, Crackle and Pop.

Julian Hunt, FDF director of communications, said: "We are baffled as to why Which? wants to take all the fun out of food by banning popular brand characters, many of whom have been adding colour to supermarket shelves for more than 80 years.

"Many of the products mentioned in this report have changed their recipes in recent years to be healthier - something for which they never get any credit."

However, the report stated that none of the 19 cartoon characters found in leading supermarkets promoted just 'healthier' foods, as defined by the Food Standard Agency's nutrient profiling model.

The report cited Kraft's Moo, the Dairylea Cow as the worst offender, with the highest average nutrition score, closely followed by Intersnack's Pom-Bear and Kellogg's Tony the Tiger.

"We don't want to take the fun out of food," a spokesperson for Which? told just-food. "We have found that cartoon characters are pretty much extensively used in the promotion of unhealthy foods and we just want to see a shift in the balance.

"We acknowledge some companies have started using their characters on healthier products. For example, Snap Crackle and Pop are being used on multigrain Rice Crispies, but we're disappointed that they're also still being used on the less healthy version."