AAF Government Report

December 17, 2009

Clark Rector Jr., Executive Vice President – Government Affairs

Food Marketing Under Fire

Food marketing to children was very much under fire by lawmakers, regulators and activists the week of December 14.

On December 14, the advocacy organization Children Now hosted a forum entitled, “Is Food Marketing to Children Getting Any Healthier?”  The focus of the event was the release of research that shows 100% compliance by participating companies in the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).  Despite this finding, the researcher declared self-regulation a failure, because foods being marketed – despite numerous and documented improvements to their nutritional profiles – still did not meet the standards chosen by the researcher.

Children Now allowed Elaine Kolish, director of the CFBAI, time to speak and defend the program.  She did an excellent job of showing documented improvements in both foods and advertising since the CFBAI was enacted.  She also showed the complexity of the issue and arbitrary nature of the researcher’s nutritional standards.  She provided numerous examples of foods the research claimed should be discouraged that, in fact, had better nutritional profiles than foods that he would allow.  Other discouraged foods were ones that other advocacy groups encouraged children to consume.  A complete copy of her remarks can be found here.

December 15, the Federal Trade Commission conducted a full day workshop, “Sizing Up: Food Marketing and Childhood Obesity.”  The agenda included panels on recent research (including the research released at the Children Now event), First Amendment Issues, and Self-Regulation.  Not surprisingly, many of the speakers were highly critical of food marketing.  Two of the speakers on the First Amendment panel even made the argument that (despite rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court) corporations are not speakers and marketing is not speech, therefore advertising should not be protected by the First Amendment.

The final panel of the day was a report by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, and included the release of their tentative nutritional standards for foods marketed to children.  The Working group was created by Congress and includes representatives of the FTC, the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Agriculture.  The group will accept comments and issue final recommendations to Congress in the summer of 2010.

Under the proposed standards, foods advertised to children must have both a minimal amount of one or more specified nutrients and not exceed set amounts of saturated fats, sugar or sodium.  The proposed standards can be found here.

Another very troubling feature of the standards is that they define children as anyone aged 2-17, greatly expanding the long accepted definition of 12 and under.  If and when the standards go into effect, 17 year olds would be considered no different than 4 year olds.  Any program that reached a certain threshold of adolescent viewers would be considered children’s programming for the purposed of food advertising.

While the proposed standards are voluntary, advocates and FTC representatives made in clear that if companies do not comply they would ask for Congressional action.

Finally, also on the 15th, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, introduced legislation to deny “any deduction for advertising and marketing directed at children to promote the consumption of food at fast food restaurants or of food of poor nutritional quality.”

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Wall St. Journal Editorializes on FTC

On December 15, The Wall St. Journal had an excellent editorial explaining the dangers to the new rulemaking authorities granted to the FTC included in the House passed legislation creating a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  The editorial effectively explains both why the new powers are unnecessary and the dangers that that could come with increased authority.  The editorial can be found at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703932904574511532397544924.html.

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