Agencies to weaken voluntary marketing guidelines

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Agencies to weaken voluntary marketing guidelines

Related tags: Federal trade commission, Nutrition

The federal agencies behind proposed voluntary guidelines on marketing foods and beverages to children appear to have backed away from some of their earlier recommendations, responding to industry concerns.

Draft proposals issued by an interagency working group (IWG) in April would have applied to food marketing to children up to the age of 17, intended to limit advertising to children of foods high in sugar, sodium or saturated fat, and also contribute to a healthy diet.

However, according to the prepared testimony of the Federal Trade Commission’s David Vladeck, the voluntary guidelines would only apply to advertising to children under the age of 12; the group would avoid issuing guidelines for marketing activities that are family-oriented, rather than specifically child-targeted; and it would not recommend removing brand characters from packaging, as these are “elements of marketing to a broader audience and are inextricably tied to the food’s brand identity.”

In Vladeck’s prepared testimony for presentation at a House subcommittee meeting today, he said: “The Commission’s efforts to date have been to encourage food companies to harness that tremendous marketing power and creative know-how to encourage children to eat nutritious foods. The Commission appreciates, however, that to be successful in this endeavor food companies must be given leeway to shape an approach that will promote children’s health, without being overly burdensome on industry.”

Self-regulation praised

He also praised industry self-regulation under the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), saying that the Commission believes this initiative was set up as a direct result of an earlier IWG report on marketing food to children released in 2006.

The CFBAI was established shortly after the report was released, with the stated intention of “shifting the mix of advertising messaging directed to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles”​. Seventeen major industry players have so far signed up to the initiative, representing about 75% of food and beverage advertising to children, according to the CFBAI’s own figures.

In response to April’s proposed guidelines, the CFBAI submitted its own nutrition proposals, which Vladeck said represent substantial progress.

GMA calls for withdrawal

In response to today’s hearing, the Grocery Manufacturers Association released a statement in which it claimed that the IWG’s proposed nutrition standards were in conflict with the USDA dietary guidelines and the school lunch program and called for them to be withdrawn. It also praised the CFBAI standards, saying that they have “dramatically changed the marketing landscape in recent years.”

“Rather than tweak, adjust or modify its proposal, the IWG should withdraw the proposal and embark on a comprehensive effort to study the impact of marketing on childhood obesity and the costs and benefits of any and all proposed marketing guidelines,”​ it said.

Vladeck’s prepared remarks said that the IWG’s proposed guidelines attracted about 29,000 comments, with more than 28,000 in support.

“A common theme of industry comments was that the proposal was simply unworkable and should be withdrawn,”​ he said. “Consumer and public health organizations strongly supported the proposal as one that would significantly improve the nutritional profile of foods marketed to children.”

Meanwhile, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Margo Wootan said that Congress does not need to rescue industry from voluntary guidelines.

“It’s not junk food marketers who deserve special Congressional protection—it’s children and parents who do,”​ she said.

Related topics: The obesity problem, Regulation

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