Proponents of the federal government's proposed new guidelines on marketing food to children scored a symbolic victory Thursday night, as the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to support the guidelines against opposition from the House.
The Food Marketing Workgroup, a coalition of 95 organizations aimed at improving nutrition and ending obesity among the nation's children, is hoping that this support from the Democratic-controlled Senate will counter language inserted in a House appropriations bill that would cut off funding for the program and require further study before the guidelines could be implemented.
"We wanted the agencies of the Interagency Working Group to know that it [the food and advertising lobby] is not the only view on the Hill," says Margo Wootan, who heads up the FMW. "This reaffirms support for the process."
The language approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday—part of its version of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2012—directs the Interagency Working Group that came up with the guidelines to submit its final report on them by December 15, thus moving the process of implementation forward.
The guidelines, which are voluntary, call for food, beverage, and restaurant companies to either modify product formulations or cut out all marketing aimed at children under 18, from TV ads to packaging to sponsorships, for products that don't meet certain nutrition standards.
The food and advertising lobby has been a formidable force on the Hill on this issue. But the final outcome of this fight isn't yet clear. The Republican majority in the House, which generally opposes the guidelines, has tended to get its way on most issues in this Congress, and that bodes well for the anti-guidelines forces. But if Congress doesn't act either way, the guidelines will go into effect by default, and considering the gridlock in Washington this year—only 29 bills have become law so far this year, and a significant number of those dealt with things like renaming post offices and courthouses—that's very good news for the pro-guidelines side.
"After what happened last night, the chance of Congress stopping the IWG from coming out with voluntary standards is very low," Wootan says.