Regulators Reconsider Food Marketing Guidelines
October 18, 2011
Following aggressive lobbying from several U.S.
companies and marketing groups, federal regulators have agreed to scale back
new guidelines intended to limit junk food marketing to kids. The initial
guidelines, first proposed in July by representatives of four government
agencies, would have pressured companies to stop marketing foods that exceeded
certain levels of fat, sugar and sodium. In addition, companies whose food
products didn't meet nutritional standards might have had to get rid of
colorful, kid-focused cartoon characters like Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam.
"These are unprecedented and extreme proposals,"
said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president for the Association of National
Advertisers. "These guidelines need to be formally withdrawn and taken
back to the drawing board." Added House Energy and Commerce Committee
Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI): "This appears to be a first step toward Uncle
Sam planning our family meals."
At a Congressional hearing last week, regulators stressed
the guidelines are voluntary and said they are rewriting segments of the formal
recommendations. For example, the original proposals would have restricted
marketing to those from ages two to 17, however it's expected the new target
group will be much narrower. David Vladeck, director
of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, also
said his agency would not recommend that companies change packaging based
solely on nutritional standards. "Those elements of packaging, though
appealing to children, are also elements of marketing to a broader audience and
are inextricably linked to the food's brand identity," he said.
According to the FTC, food companies spend at least $1.6
billion a year to market their products to children. In an effort to curb
childhood obesity, Congress in 2009 directed the FTC, the Food and Drug
Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of
Agriculture to create a report on food marketing to children. The report was
released in July of 2011 and was immediately criticized by marketers. An
updated list of guidelines is expected to be submitted by the end of this year.