At a recent joint hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, speakers discussed the Interagency Working Group’s proposed guidelines for marketing food products to children.
The preliminary guidelines, issued in April, drew criticism from the food industry. As drafted, they called for food and beverage companies to modify the content of their products to meet nutrition standards or eliminate the marketing of such products to children under age 18.
Industry groups argued that the guidelines, albeit voluntary, would violate their First Amendment rights and would amount to de facto regulations.
At the hearing, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, David Vladeck, told lawmakers that the original guidelines will be scaled down.
“The draft recommendations we issued were ambitious,” Vladeck said. “As we studied the comments, however, we realized that perhaps we were too ambitious.”
He said the IWG is currently considering whether to make “significant revisions” to its initial proposal, “including revising the marketing principles to more narrowly focus them on those techniques that are used most extensively to market to children.”
For example, “brand equity characters,” like Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, would be allowed, Vladeck said, as would marketing directed to children aged 12 to 17. Community programs, entertainment and sporting events, philanthropic activities and theme parks would also be excluded from the guidelines, as they are “directed to families or the general community,” Vladeck testified.
Vladeck also recognized the industry’s self-regulatory program and said the IWG’s updated proposal will be “substantially similar.”
Even with his acknowledgement of changes, opponents reiterated their concerns to lawmakers.
Elaine Kolish, vice president of the Council of Better Business Bureaus and director of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, testified that “self-regulation is working,” and because the organization is continuing to formulate changes, voluntary government restrictions “are unnecessary.”
For example, the recent category-specific uniform nutrition criteria established for the self-regulation program will “further improve the foods in child-directed advertising,” she said.
She also called the IWG’s initial proposal “not realistic or workable.”
And Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, called the guidelines “radical, seriously flawed, and [potentially] economically disastrous,” requesting that they be formally withdrawn.
To read Kolish’s testimony, click here.
To read Vladeck’s testimony, click here.
Why it matters: The future of the guidelines remains unclear. In addition to Mr. Vladeck’s testimony that seemingly withdraws some of the more controversial aspects of the guidelines, the IWG sent a recent letter to the same House Committee, in which it noted plans to make “significant changes to both the marketing and nutrition principles” found in the preliminary guidelines. And some lawmakers have expressed concerns similar to the industry. At the hearing, Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said the guidelines “appear to be a first step toward Uncle Sam planning our family meals.”