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Regulators Reconsider Food Marketing Guidelines
Vol. 860 
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 "These guidelines need to be formally withdrawn and taken back to the drawing board."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.

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