Congressional Vote a Setback for Obama's Food-Marketing Plan

Rider in Spending Bill Calls for Cost-Benefit Analysis for Kids' Marketing Guidelines

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In a blow to the Obama administration's plan to restrict the types of food and drinks that can be marketed to children, Congress wants to require federal agencies to weigh the cost of the proposal.

Dan Jaffe, exec VP-government relations at the Association of National Advertisers, said the administration's initiative could cost advertisers "multi-billions of dollars." He said he's pleased the administration will now have to justify the cost to ban certain ads.

"I just don't think they can," Mr. Jaffe said.

Kellogg 's Frosted Flake's Tony the Tiger
Kellogg 's Frosted Flake's Tony the Tiger

The requirement for a cost-benefit analysis was sponsored by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., in a rider to the massive omnibus spending bill aimed at preventing a pre-Christmas government shutdown. The bill passed the House today and is expected to be approved by the Senate tomorrow. In essence, the rider demands that administration weigh the benefits of a possible reduction in childhood obesity with what opponents say will be a definite reduction in advertising jobs and the loss of sales for food marketers.

"It showed how significant the Congress thought the administration's proposal is ," Mr. Jaffe said.

Mandated by the last Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Agriculture Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been working for more than 18 months on voluntary guidelines that would bar the marketing of certain foods and beverages to children.

To fight childhood obesity, the interagency group is working on recommendations that only foods that limit sodium, fat and sugar be marketed to children.

But the food and advertising industries say no one has proved a link between advertising and childhood obesity.

Mr. Jaffe said the administration has also failed to prove how the new guidelines would affect the rate of childhood obesity.

"The impact would have to be very, very high to outweigh their extreme cost," he said.

Final advertising guidelines were expected before the end of the year. They were meant to be voluntary, but opponents say the initiative is a backdoor attempt to eliminate food advertising to children.

Earlier this year, the FTC weakened an original proposal by lowering the top end of the targeted age group from 2 to 18 years to 2 to 11. The FTC also reversed an earlier recommendation that companies whose food products don't meet the nutrition guidelines abandon kid-friendly brand icons, like Kellogg 's Frosted Flake's Tony the Tiger.

FTC spokeswoman Cecilia Prewett issued a terse response to Congress' action.

"Congress has clearly changed its mind about what it would like the Interagency Working Group to do with regard to the report on food marketed to children," she said. "The IWG will be assessing [the legislation's] language and working toward congressional intent."

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the new legislation will delay the food-marketing guidelines "considerably" but not kill the administration's initiative.

"It's a bogus stalling technique," she said. "We will encourage the agencies to do this [cost-benefit] analysis as quickly as possible."

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