Food manufacturers will not support a controversial government proposal on food marketing to kids - even with the promised ‘significant’ revisions – because it is not supported by evidence, says the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).
The GMA was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after the interagency working group (IWG*) behind the proposal told a Congressional committee on Wednesday it was prepared to make “significant revisions” to its original recommendations, which were published in April.
Can we meet the IWG half way? ‘The short answer is no’
Asked whether the industry could find some middle ground with the IWG given its apparent willingness to address industry concerns, GMA vice president of federal affairs Scott Faber said: “The short answer is no.”
The burden, he argued, should not be on the food industry to prove the proposals would not work, but on the IWG to prove that they would. And this they had failed to do, he said.
If a happy compromise was what the IWG wanted, he added, there was already a viable – and evidence-backed - alternative on the table in the form of the industry-led Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).
And until the IWG had presented Congress with a cost-benefit analysis proving its proposal was both science-based and workable, food manufacturers were right not to budge, he said.
The IWG must heed the clear direction of Congress
The recommendations, hailed by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) as “evidence-based, scientifically sound” and capable of making a “substantial contribution to the obesity epidemic”, have provoked a storm of controversy, being welcomed by consumer groups and health lobby groups, but dismissed by food manufacturers as unworkable and inconsistent with the government’s own Dietary Guidelines.
Faber added: “They can revise it, but the fundamental question - which is why would these proposals be more effective than the industry’s self-regulatory initiatives – has not been answered. The administration must heed the clear direction of Congress to conduct a study of food marketing that analyses the benefits and costs of the proposed restrictions and reports back to Congress.
“But the IWG has failed to demonstrate by any study or analysis a reason to expect that its proposed restrictions will have any effect on child obesity.”
Why all the fuss about voluntary guidelines?
While the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said it was “unseemly” to see “panicked junk-food advertisers running to Congress for help” to quash “innocuous” voluntary guidelines, its claim that the food industry was overreacting was disingenuous, said Faber.
“The FDA, USDA and the FTC regulate virtually every aspect of food manufacturing and when they make ‘suggestions’, they are taken very seriously.
“It’s disappointing because in other aspects of nutrition they have relied on the best available science. We are continuing to implore the administration to follow Congress’ direction and provide the evidence that restricting the marketing of foods that meet the government’s own definition of ‘healthy’ will benefit children.”
ABA: This cannot be fixed
His comments were echoed by the American Bakers Association, which claims the proposal “would preclude advertising of nearly all baked goods to children”.
Lee Sanders, senior vice president, government relations and public affairs, told FoodNavigator-USA: “ABA and the grain chain believe that this proposal needs to be scrapped and they need to go back to the drawing board using the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as the basis of their recommendations as required by statute for any nutrition related policy.”
She added: “We are hopeful that the four agencies will work together to conduct a study on the impact of food marketed to children and teens as was the original intent of Congress in 2009.”
However, the FTC, which said it had “no further comment on the hearing” said its aim “has been and continues to be to submit the report by the end of the calendar year”.
One of the most controversial aspects of the IWG proposal are the sodium targets (140 mg/RACC for individual foods by 2021), which would prevent firms from marketing “almost every ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, most instant oatmeal products and many whole wheat and whole grain breads” to children, claims the GMA.
“The sodium levels.. are unrealistic, extremely restrictive, and if adopted, may result in unintended consequences, including food safety risks, health risks, a decrease in affordability, and the elimination of marketing of close to whole categories of foods, without any evidence that the modifications… would prevent childhood obesity.”
*The IWG represents the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Click here to read the IWG proposals in full.
Click here to read the Obesity Society’s comments.
Click here to read the American Dietetic Association’s comments.
Click here to read the GMA’s formal submission on the proposal.