Online Exclusive: Food Marketing News

FOOD MARKETERS' SELF-REGULATION CALLED A FAILURE

Clash Between Industry and Advocacy Groups Sets Scene for FTC Conference

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The food industry effort at self-regulation "is a 30-year experiment that has utterly failed," the Center for Informed Choices charged in a filing with the Federal Trade Commission.
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Released today, the comments are part of the contentious run-up to a July FTC conference called to explore what role food industry advertising plays in the increased rates of childhood obesity.

Marketers punch back
In counterpoint, marketers and industry groups submitted filings that tout their self-regulation successes and point to health-related product changes to suggest that government invtervention isn't needed. They also questioned the evidence suggesting that marketing contributes to increased childhood obesity.

The FTC convened a two-day workshop scheduled for July 14-15 in response to a request from the Institute of Medicine for a meeting of food industry executives focused on the matter. FTC Chairman Deborah Majoras has said she hopes to encourage participants to offer relevant programs, but doesn’t see the FTC taking action to impose restrictions.

The Public Health Advocacy Institute suggested that the marketing industry's biggest self-regulatory body for ads aimed at children -- the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus -- doesn’t publicize itself enough or go far enough in reviewing ads.

An 'invisible' CARU
“The CARU process is weakened by invisibility. It does not appear that CARU and its supporters advertise or otherwise promote awareness of CARU’s activities among consumers,” the group said. It also questioned why CARU wasn’t doing more to pre-review ads, and why it wasn't paying more attention to advergaming, a fast-growing marketing segment that has the potential to reach vast numbers of children playing video games.

Marketers praised CARU and industry self-regulation and said they are taking steps to offer and promote healthier products.

“Without effective marketing, the best product in the market will go unconsumed,” representatives for General Mills said. “The ability to effectively communicate to consumers encourages and enables investment in the product and allows retailers to feel assured in stocking the products.”

'Demonstrably beneficial impacts'
The company said, “Product improvement and marketing initiatives can have demonstrably beneficial impacts on health and nutrition.”

Mark Berlind, executive vice president of Kraft Foods, in his comments said his company had “adopted advertising practices that we hope will help children and their parents make better food choices.”

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