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FTC SAYS MORE LEGISLATION WOULD MAKE IT A FOOD 'NANNY'

Marketers: Consumer Demand for Healthier Foods a Bigger Influence Than Oversight

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A member of the Federal Trade Association today said the fight over food marketing's role in increased rates of childhood obesity should result in making the FTC the nation’s "nanny."
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“I don’t want to part of a nanny agency or a nanny state,” FTC Commissioner Thomas B. Leary, a Democrat, said in opening the final day of a two-day workshop examining the role food and fast-food marketing plays in childhood obesity. The conference was sponsored by the FTC and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Harkin's proposed legislation
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, yesterday called for more industry action to rein in ads aimed at children. Mr. Harkin has proposed legislation that would give the FTC additional authority to limit food-related advertising, though it wouldn’t require the commission to take action.

Mr. Leary today said he wasn’t “comfortable” with any move requiring the FTC to decide what foods can or can’t be advertised based on criteria other than whether the advertising is deceptive or unfair. He said voluntary industry action was a better choice for promoting restraint in ad campaigns.

Two sides aren't far apart
Brock Leach, senior vice president for PepsiCo, and Mark H. Berlind, executive vice president of Kraft Foods, said the industry and Mr. Harkin weren’t really very far apart on their desires.

Mr. Berlind said an FTC report showing the number of food ads children see has declined dramatically from 25 years ago isn't the real issue because consumers are demanding healthier products.

"Consumers are telling us loud and clear [that a demand for health products] needs to be addressed,” he said.

Critics at today's workshop session said the food industry hadn’t gone far enough, even though those same critics acknowledged a spate of recent steps by food marketers to launch and advertise more healthy products, such as whole grain cereals and foods with less trans fatty acids. Critics said the industry also has yet to formally address some Web, advergaming and interactive TV marketing in its marketing guidelines even while use by food companies of those ad media is growing.

'Out of control'
“We are feeling optimistic that in the future there will be change, but they haven’t changed yet,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “A lot of food marketing is out of control.”

She said the food industry needs to go beyond the question of whether ads are fairly presented to address “which foods are being marketed to children” and whether those ads are having a negative effect on diet and health.

Dr. Donald Lee Shifrin, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Obesity, said industry promises for a new Ad Council nutrition education campaign won’t be effective.

Tsunami of media messages
Messages educating the family “are lost in the tsunami of media messages on food,” he said. The academy has called for a ban on advertising to children under age 7.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association today formally announced new initiatives, including a ban on product placement in TV shows for children, and marketers and industry representatives at the workshop said progress is already being made on marketing healthier products to children.

“This is the best you can get right now,” said the association's president-CEO, C. Manly Molpus.

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