Food fight breaks out in Washington over marketing to kids


A group of federal agencies led by the Federal Trade Commission worked up a report on the marketing of food to children on television and other venues, and suggested voluntary guidelines restricting advertising food deemed less than healthful. Although FTC says it’s a report, not a rulemaking, food manufacturers and some in Congress are pushing back.

The report targets foods that are fatty, salty or full or sugar.

Opponents argue that in trying to get obvious items off the air, and the internet, and on packaging, other foods that contain good nutrition but have slight problems in one area or another would also be caught in the dragnet – things like milk, peanut butter, even whole grain breads that have a little too much sodium. Others could be nailed for not containing nutrients – bottled water, for example.

The FTC’s David Vladeck said that this was nowhere close to being a rulemaking and that everybody should take it easy. “Ideally, during the next five years it would be great to see the cereal companies voluntarily tweak their formulations to raise the whole grain content and lower the added sugars for cereals marketed to children.”

Food companies are nevertheless wary of the guidelines somehow making it into the body of regulation, or of facing repercussions for not voluntarily going along with them.

Legislators from both parties, but mainly on the Republican side of the aisle, are backing the manufacturers. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) is said to have introduced a measure that would require the FTC to come up with study detailing the cost and impact of ad restrictions, tied to the next FTC budget.

RBR-TVBR observation: We all have freedom of speech in this nation, but there are degrees that apply to the freedom. Broadcasters have to watch themselves from 6AM to 10PM. And commercial speech is not nearly as free as personal speech. Nevertheless, we believe that we are a very long way from a day when meaningful restrictions are placed on these types of advertisements. The noise level, on the other hand, will remain high.