October 12th, 2011

Gov't pulls back on junk food marketing proposal

By Mary Clare Jalonick
Associated Press

Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam can rest easy. Government officials fine-tuning guidelines for marketing food to children say they won’t push the food industry to get rid of colorful cartoon characters on cereal boxes anytime soon.

Allowing the brand icons from popular cereals to remain untouched is one of the concessions officials say they are likely to make as they work to convince food companies to curb junk food marketing to children.

The draft of voluntary guidelines released earlier this year sets maximum levels of fat, sugars and sodium, among other requirements, and asks food companies not to market foods that go beyond those parameters to children ages 2 through 17. The guidelines would apply to many mediums, including ads on television, in stores and on the Internet, in an effort to stem rising obesity levels.

The food industry, backed by House Republicans, who are holding a hearing on the issue Wednesday, has aggressively lobbied against the voluntary guidelines, saying they are too broad and would limit marketing of almost all of the nation’s favorite foods, including some yogurts and many children’s cereals. Though the guidelines would be voluntary, food companies say they fear the government will retaliate against them if they don’t go along.

Officials from the Federal Trade Commission, the Agriculture Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who jointly wrote the guidelines, will on Wednesday face the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has already made its distaste for the proposal clear. In a letter last month, Republicans on the committee wrote the agencies and called the guidelines “little better than a shot in the dark.”

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