Thursday, July 14, 2011

Food Industry To Obama Administration: We'll Set Our Own Standards For Marketing To Kids

Industry giants unveil uniform standards for kids' advertising that are less restrictive than government guidelines...
Calling the Obama Administration's proposed principles for marketing food to children "unworkable and unrealistic," a coalition of food industry giants on Thursday released their own proposal for self regulation. The seventeen members of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) include ConAgra, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, General Mills, and Kellogg's, which together sell thousands of food and beverage products around the globe. Their standards are far less restrictive than those released in April by the Federal Trade Commission, and were announced on the same day that the mandatory public comment period for the government's proposal closed; it had been extended due to a firestorm of public debate. (Above: President Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha eat Hawaiian shave ice, which if made with added sugar falls under both the federal and industry ad guidelines)

“These new criteria are challenging, but realistic, goals for further improving the products advertised to children,” said Elaine D. Kolish, vice president and director of the CFBAI, as she unveiled the industry's counter offer.

"We all want healthier kids, but we think the government's proposal is unworkable and unrealistic," Kolish said.

The Administration asked the food industry to embrace "stronger and more meaningful self-regulation" to "support parents’ efforts to get their kids to eat healthier foods," and laid out a series of nutrition guidelines for reducing fats, sugars and salts, as well as stipulations for how these foods could be marketed on various media platforms and on packaging.

All companies that have joined CFBAI will adopt uniform standards for marketing their products to children, rather than allowing each individual company to set its own standards, Kolish said. The industry's standards include reducing sugar, salt, calories, trans fat and saturated fat in a range of foods in ten categories--but at higher levels than the government's proposal--including juices; dairy products; grains, fruits and vegetable products; soups and meal sauces; seeds, nuts, nut butters and spreads; meat, fish and poultry products; mixed dishes; main dishes and entrees; small meals; and meals.

"Now foods from different companies, such as cereals or canned pastas, will meet the same nutrition criteria, rather than similar but slightly different company-specific criteria," Kolish said.

Each category has its own criteria, Kolish said, adding that about one-third of products offered that are currently advertised to children don't meet the new standards. By Dec. 31, 2013, products must meet the new standards or they can't be advertised to children, she said. Included in this group are foods that are popular with children, such as cookies, fruit roll-ups, and yogurt, and their recipes will be altered based on the industry's own guidelines, Kolish said.

The government proposal, created by an interagency working group that included members from FTC, FDA, USDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is part of the Administration's broader effort to end childhood obesity, with sweeping changes in nutrition policy that are coordinated across twelve federal agencies by First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign.

The federal proposal requires that foods advertised to children provide a “meaningful contribution to a healthful diet” by including at least one of the following food groups: Fruit, vegetable, whole grain, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, lean poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans. It also calls for limiting the use of cartoon and animated characters.

Mrs. Obama told food makers last year that she'd make it her mission to get Americans to love healthier foods, and asked the industry to throw the weight of their advertising dollars behind these, rather than promoting junk foods.

"We need you...to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children," Mrs. Obama (l) told the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

"I’m asking you to actively promote healthy foods and healthy habits to our kids," Mrs. Obama said. "What does it mean when so many parents are finding that their best efforts are undermined by an avalanche of advertisements aimed at their kids?"

The GMA gave Mrs. Obama a standing ovation when she was done speaking, but has now turned against her campaign; the group has vocally opposed the government's proposal. GMA has joined an industry group, the Sensible Food Policy Coalition, that was created to ensure that the guidelines are withdrawn. CFBAI members General Mills, Kellogg's and PepsiCo are also part of the Sensible Food Policy Coalition, as well as members of the GMA. ConAgra belongs to GMA, too.

The federal proposal vs. the industry proposal...
A bone of contention for the government is the use of cartoon and animated characters in food ads to woo children, and under the proposed guidelines, these can appear on products only if the food contains 8 grams of sugar per serving or less, no trans fat, and a small amount of saturated fat.

CFBAI's proposal will allow cartoon and animated characters on products only if the foods contain no more than 10 grams of sugar per serving, and meet other nutrition standards.

The federal guidelines discourage using characters on both packaging and in stores, as well as across a broad range of media, while the food industry's guidelines would apply only to media, and not packaging. That means Tony the Tiger might be extinct under government guidelines, but he can still roar across America's breakfast tables in the food industry's guidelines.

CFBAI says it will restrict saturated fat in products and lower sodium content to no more than 480 milligrams per serving, while the government wants sodium restricted to no more than 210 milligrams when a product is marketed to children.

Kolish said that in order to reduce salt levels by more than half their present levels "one would have to overcome vast technical issues, and then you would have to have a product consumers would actually eat."

In other words, the food and beverage industry believes it would be a very expensive proposition to actually lower salt content and still have foods be tasty, and they're uninterested in aggressively exploring the possibility through food research and recipe redesign.

CFBAI gets praise from FTC chairman...
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz on Thursday said the government would consider the food companies' initiative as it develops its own standards, and praised the effort.

"The 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," Leibowitz told AP.

But the federal guidelines are now one step further from becoming adopted: House Republicans have included a provision in next year's Federal Trade Commission budget which requires the government to study the potential cost and impact of the guidelines before implementing them. If they are not delayed by Congress, a final draft of the government's proposed standards could be released by the end of 2011.

The Sensible Food Policy Coalition has hired President Obama's former White House Communications Director, Anita Dunn, to craft their campaign against the federal guidelines.

In the CFBAI proposal, some of the nutrition standards for product categories:
Juices: No added sugars are permitted, and the serving must contain no more than 160 calories.

Dairy: This category includes products such as milk and yogurt. For ready to drink flavored milk, an 8 fluid ounce portion is limited to 24 grams (g) of total sugars. For yogurt products, a 6 ounce portion is limited to 170 calories and 23 grams of total sugars. These sugars criteria include both naturally-occurring and sugars added for flavoring.

Grains, fruits and vegetable products (and items not in other categories): This category includes products such as cereals, crackers and cereal bars. Foods with ≤ 150 calories, such as most children’s breakfast cereals, must contain no more than 1.5 g of saturated fat, 290 milligrams (mg) of sodium and 10 g of sugar (products with 150−200 calories get proportionately higher limits). Foods in this category also must provide ≥ ½ serving of foods to encourage (fruits, vegetables, non- or low-fat dairy, and whole grains) or ≥ 10% of the Daily Value of an essential nutrient.

Seeds, nuts, nut butters and spreads: Foods in this category, which includes peanut butters, must have no more than 220 calories, 3.5 g of saturated fat, 240 mg of sodium and 4 g of sugar per 2 tablespoons. Foods in this category also must provide at least one ounce of protein equivalent.

Main dishes and entrees: Foods in this category, such as canned pastas, must have no more than 350 calories, 10 percent calories from saturated fat, 600 mg of sodium and 15 g of sugar per serving. Foods in this category also must provide either ≥ 1 serving of foods to encourage or ≥ ½ serving of foods to encourage and ≥ 10% of the Daily Value of two essential nutrients.

*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House, shot at Island Snow in Kailua, Hawaii, Dec. 2010; the yogurt image was created during President Obama's election campaign by Flickr user "everydayadventure."