AAF Government Report

May 6, 2011

Clark Rector Jr., Executive Vice President – Government Affairs

Proposed Nutrition Standards for Food Advertising Released

An Interagency Working Group (IWG) of the federal government has released a second version of proposed voluntary nutrition standards for foods marketed to children ages 17 and under designed to help combat childhood obesity. This fact sheet released by the Working Group gives an overview of the standards. The IWG includes the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

While some aspects of the recommendations differ from the prior proposal, the recommended maximum levels of certain nutrients in foods has remained virtually unchanged. For individual foods, the standards recommend they not be marketed to children unless they contain:

  • 1 g or less saturated fat and 15% or less of calories from saturated fat per RACC (reference amount customarily consumed)
  • 0 g trans fat per RACC
  • No more than 13 g of added sugars per RACC
  • No more than 210 mg sodium per serving

The revised recommendations call for a five year phase-in period for the industry to meet the standards (the sodium level is an interim target – with a final target of 140 mg per serving after ten years).

The IWG recommendations state that foods marketed to children should provide a “meaningful contribution” from one of a number of specified food groups, but unlike the first version released, do not specify the minimum amounts necessary to be qualified as a meaningful contribution.

Perhaps the most significant change in the new recommendations is the recognition of the difference between children 11 and under and adolescents between 12 and 17. In its accompanying statement, the Federal Trade Commission acknowledges that the older group is more capable of understanding the intent of marketing and, as such, the recommendations for marketing to them should be narrower in scope, perhaps being limited to in-school marketing and social media.

Despite these changes, the recommendations remain very troublesome and unworkable. The nutrition standards are so stringent that they would apply to the vast majority of products advertised today – including such items as yogurt, soups and most cereals. Since there is no current research which establishes a link between marketing of food products and childhood obesity, there is no reason to believe that this extreme proposal would do anything to help reduce obesity.

The proposals as they stand would have an enormous impact. For example, hundreds of television shows would become off-limits to advertisers of food products that do not meet the guidelines. While the standards are put forth as “voluntary,” it is unclear what the reaction of the enforcement agencies would be if marketers and/or the media do not, or cannot comply.

Finally, these proposals are unnecessary. Most food manufactures have joined with the Better Business Bureau to create the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. Under this self-regulatory program, companies pledge to advertise to children under 12 only products that are consistent with federal nutrition guidelines. Some companies have pledged not to advertise at all to children under 12. Companies have already reformulated countless products to improve their nutrition profiles.

The IWG’s original proposal was released in December 2009. This revision was originally anticipated in July, 2010. The IWG has invited comments on the proposal, and includes many specific questions that may be addressed. Comments are due by June 13, 2011.

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Rockefeller to Introduce Do-Not Track

Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is expected to introduce privacy legislation soon. According to reports, the bill is likely to include broad-based do-not-track language and may give the Federal Trade Commission enhanced rulemaking powers. Rockefeller is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee which has jurisdiction over the Internet and the Federal Trade Commission.

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California Proposes Do-Not-Track

California State Senator Alan Lowenthal, D-27, has introduced legislation that would mandate that online businesses adopt a do-not-track mechanism for consumer information. AAF has joined with the California Chamber and other groups to send a letter explaining that the measure is unnecessary, unworkable, unenforceable and unconstitutional.

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