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ConAgra pledges to cut food ads to kids

By Lorraine Heller , 05-Oct-2007

Food giant ConAgra has joined a voluntary industry initiative to reduce its marketing to children as part of a widespread move to improve kids' nutrition and reduce the rates of obesity.

Yesterday's pledge follows a call for information from the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet Edward Markey. The company was one of the five last major firms to announce voluntary measures to restrict their marketing of 'junk food' to children. Last month, ConAgra, Nestle, Dannon, Chuck E Cheese and Yum! Brands received letters from Chairman Markey asking them to provide guidance on what measures they plan to implement, and their timelines for doing so. The letters followed the establishment of the Council of Better Business Bureau's (CBBB) Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which was set up last year as a voluntary self-regulation program for industry. Participants adopted nutrition standards for all marketing aimed at children, and also committed to devote at least half of their kids' advertising to promote healthier products, good nutrition and healthy lifestyles. The initiative is currently made up of 13 participants: Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's, PepsiCo, Unilever, Masterfoods and Burger King. ConAgra yesterday became the thirteenth member of the initiative. The company's pledge came in a written response to Chairman Markey. It said it will finalize specific criteria in January 2008. "I want to commend ConAgra for its voluntary commitment, which indicates that ConAgra recognizes its responsibility to children and the importance of taking steps to combat the childhood obesity epidemic. As childhood obesity is a serious public health issue, it is vital that food and beverage marketers adopt socially responsible marketing strategies. I look forward to reviewing the full details of ConAgra's new criteria," said Markey. Responses from the remaining four food companies have not as yet been announced. If the food industry as a whole fails to adequately step up to the issue with voluntary measures, it is highly likely that new regulations will be implemented to enforce advertising restrictions. According to American law, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has three major ways it could address the problem: it could place a ban on all junk food ads; it could limit the overall advertising minutes available for advertising to children; or it could disqualify broadcasters from renewing their licences if children's programs are aired with junk food ads. In June Chairman Markey chaired a hearing in the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, during which he said that in the absence of a proper response from industry, he is prepared to "press the FCC to put on the books rules that will protect the children of our country from these unhealthy messages".

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