Government proposals designed to protect children from junk food marketing are “based on nutrition standards that are virtually unachievable”, according to a group of Campbell Soup employees.
Staff at the soup giant were commenting on proposals - published in April by a working group representing several government agencies - that would prevent firms marketing foods to kids unless they meet strict new nutritional standards.
While many manufacturers are channeling their views via trade associations, several Campbell employees have also submitted comments individually expressing their concerns during the consultation period.
Misguided and counterproductive
The Campbell staff, including Steve Petroski, Tracy Saloum, Curtis Dorn and Andrew Turay, say: “Although these guidelines seek to promote a worthy goal in which we wholeheartedly share, they do so in a manner that is misguided and that will be counterproductive."
In practice, the “draconian” thresholds for sodium, fat and sugars meant a high proportion of foods currently on the market would not meet the standards, while the proposed nutritional principles "describe products that manufacturers will not produce because children and teens will not eat them.”
Guidelines will also limit communications intended for adults
Because the IWG’s definition of advertising and marketing was so broad, the proposals could also “substantially limit communications intended for adults”, they claimed.
“In fact, if as little as 20 percent of the audience for a communication is composed of persons aged 12-17, the communication will be considered ‘marketing to children’ and must therefore satisfy the guidelines’ draconian standards. As a result, many communications plainly intended for adults will no longer be permissible.”
Karen Moller, business operations director at the soup giant, added: “Because the definition of ‘marketing to children’ is so broad - it includes anything on the packaging that could appeal to children or adolescents - the commercial viability of continuing to make these products would be in serious question.”
Several other firms have also joined Campbell in making individual public comments, including Denise Heck of the United Baking Company, who said: “We cannot understand how this advertising ban will provide a viable solution [to obesity]”.
The IWG itself notes that a “high proportion of foods currently in the marketplace would not meet these limits [on sodium], even with significant reformulation” and says its goal, by 2021, is achieving a sodium limit for foods marketed to kids that matches federal labeling regulations for 'low sodium' foods.
While the American Bakers Association (ABA) has argued this would "preclude advertising of nearly all baked goods to children", many health advocacy groups argue in their public comments that this would be no bad thing.
The Obesity Society said: “We appreciate the difficulty in determining cut-offs in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar that distinguishes healthy from unhealthy foods. Thus ideally those difficult decisions could be circumvented if all food marketing to children was prohibited.”
But ABA senior vice president, government relations and public affairs Lee Sanders said they would “eliminate the ability to promote and advertise very basic and important grain food staples in children’s diets”.
The American Meat Institute added: “Setting unrealistic targets and employing a one-size approach in sodium reduction ignores the unique functions sodium provides in meat products compared to other foods.”
But Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) nutrition policy director Margo Wootan accused the food industry of scaremongering by overstating the impact of the proposals.
“The food industry lost major credibility claiming that the administration was trying to ban advertising of whole wheat bread, peanut butter, or other healthy foods to kids.”
According to an analysis conducted by Georgetown Economic Services, only twelve of the top 100 most commonly consumed foods and beverages in America would meet the IWG's proposed nutrition standards.
Food trade associations are instead rallying behind the industry-led Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), which has recently been beefed up via with the adoption of uniform nutrition criteria for foods advertised to children.
Click here to read the IWG proposals in full.