As both a parent and a former advertising lawyer for a major food and cosmetics conglomerate, I’ve been following with interest the Obama administration’s attempts to curb the marketing of unhealthful foods to children.
Earlier this year, I gave you a sense of how the current voluntary self-regulation scheme is pretty much a joke (“Fox Guards Henhouse: Industry’s Self-Regulation of Children’s Food Advertising“). So when a few months ago a federal interagency group (FTC, CDC, FDA and USDA) released more voluntary standards for the marketing of food to children, I wasn’t that excited. True, the new guidelines do actually lay out the nutritional requirements for foods that may be freely marketed to children (as opposed to letting manufacturers set those standards in the old scheme.) But it was my feeling (as I summed up in my winning entry for the Slate magazine childhood obesity Hive) that only actual legislation, with real penalties for violation, will ever really rein in Big Food.
But apparently food companies feel sufficiently threatened by the proposed voluntary scheme to be fighting back tooth and nail. The Associated Press reported yesterday on House GOP efforts to thwart the new guidelines by “by including a provision in next year’s Federal Trade Commission budget that would require the government to study the potential costs and impacts of the guidelines before implementing them.” Even one Democratic lawmaker (Rep. G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina) is quoted as expressing concern about the government’s failure produce evidence that the guidelines “will serve the government’s goals of changing long-term eating habits.” And, not surprisingly, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (a trade group of the largest food manufacturers in the country) is up in arms.
It remains to be seen whether the guidelines will withstand the political onslaught and/or whether they’ll emerge from the process in a greatly weakened form. I’ll of course keep you posted here.
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