By  on July 12, 2007

LONDON — The British fashion industry wants to set the bar high for the way models are treated, establishing standards for health and working conditions and banning those under age 16 from the runway during London Fashion Week.

A special panel formed by the British Fashion Council to examine health issues facing models made preliminary recommendations Wednesday that reach beyond the size zero debate.

"The eating disorder issue is just the tip of the iceberg," Baroness Denise Kingsmill, a lawyer and member of the House of Lords who chaired the Model Health Inquiry panel, said during a news conference here. "We're looking at the working conditions, drugs and general unhealthy living. We want to make Britain a gold standard for how the girls are treated."

The panel, whose members include model agent Sarah Doukas, designers Betty Jackson and Giles Deacon, and model Erin O'Connor, issued its interim report. The final report will be released in September.

The recommendations include a ban on models under the age of 16, backstage environments that are free of drugs and smoke, a licensing system for modeling agencies, guarantees that agencies' staff have undergone health training and the creation of a representative body or union for models.

However, the panel said it wouldn't seek to ban designers from using a particular size model or introduce weigh-ins at London Fashion Week.

"We could ban size zero, but would that really help us produce change?" asked physician Adrienne Key, one of the panel members. "Instead, we're saying, Let's find out who's got eating disorders.' It's a much bigger problem than just anorexia."

The report also mentioned the possible use of a minimum body mass index as a tool for measuring the health of models. The study raised concerns that the index wasn't a reliable method of indicating the more common problem of bulimia, and that an "over-rigorous approach to regulation" would irrevocably damage London as a fashion center.

The global controversy over ultrathin models heated up last fall, when Madrid Fashion Week banned them from its runways and insisted on a body mass index of at least of 18. Italy followed with an "ethical code of self-regulation," suggesting a license for models issued by a committee of fashion and health experts, and guaranteeing the models' health. The Italian plan stipulated that models had to be at least age 16 and have a body mass index of 18.5.In New York, the Council of Fashion Designers of America sought to educate rather than enforce a body mass index. Its recommendations included workshops for models on eating disorders; hiring models 16 and older and not allowing those under 18 to work past midnight; healthy meals, snacks and water backstage and at shoots, and overall nutrition and fitness education.

The British panel will consult with the industry on its findings before submitting final recommendations, which will be published ahead of London Fashion Week in September.

Kingsmill said the panel wouldn't recommend that legislation be introduced to enforce its findings in the fashion industry. Instead, it is calling for additional funding for the BFC, so that it can work with government departments to put the regulations into practice.

"How these recommendations will be implemented will need to be discussed with model agencies, casting directors, designers and show producers in the coming weeks, in order that they can be in place for September's fashion week," Hilary Riva, chief executive of the BFC, said in a statement.

"If the BFC is required to take on a broader role in this important area, new sources of funding will be required."

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