Food ads to kids: more info requested as rules considered

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Five leading food companies that have not already pledged to
restrict their marketing to children have been asked to provide
guidance on what measures they plan to implement, and their
timelines for doing so.

Nestle, Dannon, ConAgra, Chuck E Cheese and Yum! Brands must respond to the request for information by next week, and this will then be used to determine the "additional steps that may be warranted to safeguard kids from junk food ads". ​The firms, which are the remaining big companies that have so far refrained from announcing voluntary advertising limits, received the requests this week from the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet Edward Markey. "I am writing to you to ascertain whether your company will join the CBBB initiative and commit to implementing marketing restrictions that meet or exceed those of the other companies that have made pledges, and if so, your timeline for doing so,"​ wrote Chairman Markey on Wednesday. The Council of Better Business Bureau's (CBBB) Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative was set up last year as a voluntary self-regulation program for industry. Participants adopted nutrition standards to 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 12 participants: Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's, PepsiCo, Unilever, Masterfoods and Burger King, the latter of which joined this week. "It is important that other food and beverage companies step up and match the efforts these 12 companies are making,"​ said Chairman Markey. A report released this year by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that over one quarter of the television advertisements viewed by children are for food, and that the most heavily advertised food products for kids are candy and snacks. This fueled the debate that was already raging surrounding the marketing practices of food companies, and their role in the nation's rising childhood obesity rates. 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". ​An aid to Chairman Markey yesterday told FoodNavigator-USA.com that the responses from the remaining companies that have so far failed to implement voluntary measures are crucial in a consideration of potential rulemaking. "Regulation is always an option if voluntary commitments are inadequate. Pledges vary, and it all comes down to the quality of the pledges," he said. "It's not a cut and dry yes or no as to whether regulatory action will be taken. We'd have to do an assessment of all the pledges, and how they stack up in the aggregate." ​ Responses from the five companies that this week received requests for information are expected by September 19.

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