Feds May Soften Controversial Food Marketing Guidelines

Letter to House Republican talks of changes

The federal government's proposed food guidelines for marketing food to children, though voluntary, caused an uproar in the food and advertising industry, leading to an aggressive lobbying campaign on the Hill to modify the regulations or stop them altogether. Now those efforts to rally Congress, particularly the House GOP, to exert pressure on the federal government, may be paying off, The Hill reports. 

In response to a letter from Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the heads of three of the four agencies that proposed the guidelines last July said their interagency working group "anticipates making significant changes to both the marketing and nutrition principles as it develops final recommendations."

That's promising news for the food and advertising industry, which has characterized the guidelines as extreme back-door regulation. The voluntary guidelines call for food, beverage, and restaurant companies to either modify product formulations or cut out all marketing aimed at children under 18 for products that don't meet certain nutrition standards. Proponents of the guidelines, who've lined up support from Senate Democrats, say such guidelines are necessary to counter the nation's growing childhood obesity problem.

The signatories—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Jon Leibowitz, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission—also said they would "take into account" the new self-regulatory plan adopted by the industry's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

When the CFBAI, a program of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, proposed the plan, it received a strong, supportive nod from Leibowitz. "This industry's uniform standards are a significant advance and are exactly the type of initiative the commission had in mind when we started pushing for self-regulation more than five years ago," he said in July.

No one knows exactly how much the guidelines may be changed.  

"This may end up being a positive development, but before anybody starts popping champagne corks, we need to see what is actually being proposed," said Dan Jaffe, the executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers. "There have to be very significant changes to the proposal to make them acceptable."