October 14, 2011


Food Ad Guidelines Focus on Hearing

The Interagency Working Group (IWG) proposed nutrition principles for foods marketed to children were the subject of an October 12 joint hearing of the subcommittees on Health and Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Representatives of three of the four IWG agencies (Federal Trade Commission, Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) testified, as did representatives of the food and advertising industries as well as consumer groups. Opening statements of committee leaders and witnesses written testimony can be found on the committee web site.

While some Democratic members of the committee expressed support for the guidelines, a substantial number of members, from both sides of the aisle, expressed extreme misgivings about the IWG proposal. Many members were particularly upset that while the working group was directed to conduct a study on the issue, and then report recommendations to Congress, it did neither.

The FTC’s Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection David Vladeck acknowledged that the guidelines as released were not only ambitious, but that “perhaps we were too ambitious.”

During the question and answer period, William Dietz Director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, admitted that the IWG did not study the proposal’s impact on charitable organizations, the price of food, and jobs.

Because the proposal is not a typical regulatory action, the next steps are unknown. Many committee members and industry representatives would like the agencies to scrap the entire proposal and start again by conducting the study as directed. While it is clear that the guidelines will undergo revision, it is much less clear how extensive those revisions will be.

Subcommittee Looks at Privacy

On October 13, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade conducted a hearing on “Understanding Consumer Attitudes Towards Privacy.” Opening statements and witness testimony can be found on the committee web site.
Members on both sides of the aisle, including Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., argued that a national baseline privacy law is needed, but there is little consensus as to the specifics of what the law would be. Rep. Barton seemed to take an extreme position on online privacy by citing the Third Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits the government from stationing soldiers in people’s homes without their consent. Rep. Butterfield argued that consumers have the right to know, up front, when their online activities are being tracked, what activities are being tracked, and what that information will be used for.”

The Direct Marketing Association’s Linda Woolley testified on behalf of the AAF supported Digital Advertising Alliance. She explained how this industry self-regulatory program achieves much of what Rep. Butterfield is calling for by requiring that participating companies notify consumers via the Ad Choices icon that they participate in the program and give them the choice to easily opt-out of receiving behavioral advertising.

In remarks made earlier in the week, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz reiterated his call for an online do-not-track mechanism, but also stated his preference that it come about not by government mandate, but industry action. He acknowledged the progress being made by the DAA and many individual companies.

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