Well, we’ve seen this move before.
You might recall that a few months ago,while the federal government was working with the food industry to come up with new, front-of-package nutrition labeling, industry abruptly broke off talks and announced its own “Nutrition Keys” initiative, a labeling program which has been criticized as ineffective and self-serving. It was a savvy move to pre-empt federal regulation and score PR points.
Now, just as the comment period has closed on proposed voluntary federal guidelines to rein in the marketing of junk food to children, Big Food has announced its own new advertising guidelines which are — surprise, surprise — less rigorous than what the federal government had in mind.
The industry association behind these new guidelines will be familiar if you’re a regular reader of TLT. It’s the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ “Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative” (CFBAI) which, as I’ve discussed in the past (“Fox Guards Henhouse: Industry’s ‘Self-Regulation’ of Children’s Food Advertising“) has done a fairly dismal job to date of regulating the marketing of unhealthful foods to children.
By way of reminder, here are some foods that presently meet the CFBAI’s definition of “better for you” foods that can be freely advertised to kids:
Hmm. . . . doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in this group, does it?
Under its new proposal, the CFBAI promises to impose a single nutritional standard on its members’ food products, as opposed to letting each company decide for itself which foods meet the “better for you” test. That is indeed an improvement, since the old system yielded the questionable results shown above.
However, the industry’s proposed nutritional standards would not, according to the New York Times, “require food makers to change much — two-thirds of the products the companies now advertise already meet them. And the levels fall far short of nutritional standards proposed by regulators.”
Some of the improvements promised by the CFBAI are a reduction in sugar in advertised cereals from twelve grams per serving to ten (the federal government wanted a reduction to eight grams per serving) and a reduction of sodium in canned pastas from 750 mg to 600 mg. You can see all the new proposed criteria here; manufacturers will have until 2014 to reformulate their products to meet them.
The FTC, one of the agencies involved in the drafting of the new federal guidelines, gave the industry proposal qualified praise:
“The industry’s uniform standards are a significant advance and exactly the type of initiative the commission had in mind when we started pushing for self-regulation more than five years ago,” Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, said in a statement about the advertising initiative.
The Times account goes on to note that “[r]egulators say they hope that industry embraces the [federal] guidelines voluntarily and there are no plans to make them enforceable through legislation or formal regulation.”
But you may also recall my recent post on efforts by the House GOP to delay progress on the federal guidelines by including in next year’s FTC budget a requirement that they be studied for their “potential costs and impacts.” In other words, House Republicans, backed by the powerful food lobby, are trying to prevent the federal guidelines from ever seeing the light of day.
Meanwhile, just to put it all in quick perspective, here are a few products that may still be marketed relentlessly to your kids, even after the industry’s new guidelines are in effect:
In other words, score one for Big Food.
[Ed Note: I promised a reader, Mel, a response to his recent comment that any effort to regulate the marketing of food to kids is governmental nannying that ignores the role parents should play in overseeing their kids' diets. I had intended to post my thoughts in the coming days but this breaking news item took precedence. I'll get back to Mel, and other readers who might share his view, as soon as possible.]
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