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US Congress delays release of food marketing recommendations



According to amendments to the 2012 spending bill  adopted on 16 December in the House and on 17 December in the Senate, the US Congress will require the Interagency Working Group (IWG) on food marketed to children to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before releasing any recommendations for marketing to children.

The IWG is composed of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and has been working on developing nutritional guidelines for over a year in order to determine which foods can continue to be advertised to children.

The decision will most likely delay the publication of guidelines for nutritional criteria for food and beverage marketing to children, originally expected by the end of this 2011.

The IWG published a draft of nutritional standards earlier this year following a request by the US Congress in a 2009 spending bill to help combat childhood obesity. The draft proposal was then watered down by the FTC to notably narrow the age group targeted and focusing on children aged 2 to 11 instead of up to age 17.

In a statement, FTC Director of Public Affairs, Cecelia Prewett, said that: "Congress has clearly changed its mind" about the marketing guidelines and that the government "will be assessing its language and working toward congressional intent."

In July 2011, a group of the US largest food companies members of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative adopted common nutrition criteria for foods advertised to children. The industry self-regulatory proposals were welcome by federal officials, who said they would consider them as they finalise the guidelines.

Following the Congress vote, Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the consumer advocacy group “Center for Science in the Public Interest” (CSPI), declared in a press release: “Doing a cost-benefit analysis makes sense for regulations that require companies to actually do something. But there is no cost associated with something that is totally voluntary.”

CSPI further noted that: “Even when television ads for cigarettes were banned, media companies’ ad revenues continued to grow. Mars, Coca-Cola, and Hershey have voluntarily given up advertising to kids and seem to be doing just fine”.

CSPI invites people to sign a letter for President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and the IWG agencies to encourage the Administration to finalise and release food marketing guidelines.

The spending bill has been sent to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it.

Source: Advertising Education Forum (AEF)