Food Fights Back – Industry Group May Challenge Food Advertising to Children Guidelines

We previously blogged about a draft interagency group proposal to establish principles for foods that are advertised to children. The interagency group includes representatives from the FTC and FDA. The draft proposal sets forth two principles for ten categories of food most heavily marketed to children (such as cereal, candy, dairy, and carbonated and noncarbonated beverages) and suggests that these principles be met by 2016: Principle A: Foods marketed to children should make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet through inclusion of food groups such as juice, whole grains, low fat or fat free dairy, lean meat or fish, beans, nuts and eggs. There are two different suggested approaches to measure whether the contribution is meaningful. The first option looks to whether 50% by weight of the food or dish is comprised of the relevant groups, while the second sets specific goals for one or more of the relevant food groups. Principle B: Foods marketed to children should minimize consumption of foods with significant amounts of nutrients that could have a negative impact on health or weight — specifically, sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and added sugars. Specific targets are proposed for each of these. Unlike other efforts to create voluntary food advertising guidelines, the current proposals appear to have generated significantly more opposition. An industry coalition has formed to fight against the guidelines, with the hope that Congress will act to kill the interagency effort. Dan Jaffe, spokesman for the Sensible Food Policy Coalition and executive vice president for the Association of National Advertisers has been quoted as saying that legislative activity is "likely." The coalition is putting forth two arguments. First, the coalition argues that the guidelines are overly strict and would potentially impact not only marketing to children but to adults as well. The coalition issued a report last week arguing that 88 of 100 most popular foods with the general public would not meet the standards for salt, sugar and fat set under the voluntary guidelines for advertising foods to children ages 2 to 17. Second, given the current economic climate, the coalition is arguing that the proposed guidelines will significantly impact spending on marketing and will be a job killer. Of course, the proposed guidelines are only voluntary and given the First Amendment are unlikely to ever have the force of law, but the industry is no doubt worried that these guidelines will in practice become industry standards much as other industries have fallen in line behind other FTC voluntary guidelines. A provision in the report that accompanied the fiscal 2012 House Financial Services spending bill (HR 2434) warned the FTC not to "issue principles or guidelines governing food marketed to children unless a peer-reviewed scientific study conclusively demonstrates that regulating food marketing directed to children is the most effective way of changing long-term eating behavior and reducing obesity." The provision also warns the FTC not to base any enforcement actions against companies on the guidelines. The House has not yet taken up the bill. The fiscal 2012 Agriculture spending bill (HR 2112), which did pass, has report language directing the Agriculture Department to seek appropriators' approval for any future involvement in the interagency working group. The coalition claims the support of 25 senators and more than 100 House members who have written letters questioning the scope of the interagency group's work. The majority of signers have been Republicans, but some Democrats also have joined in. So it looks like we may be headed for a full blown food fight. – Randy Shaheen

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