The guides essentially tell food marketers to follow the requirements of the new food-labeling regulation, which took effect May 8, as it regards ad terminology. But the rules for advertising health/disease claims aren't as rigid.
The FTC requires marketers that use terms such as "light" and "reduced" in ads to satisfy the same definitions as established by the Food & Drug Administration for food labels.
For example, a product whose label bears the assertion "fat free" contains less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving, and that must also be the case for a product being advertised as fat free.
"The commission's action ensures consistency with the FDA's rules," said C. Manly Molpus, president of Grocery Manufacturers of America.
What has consumer groups upset is the FTC's refusal to adopt verbatim the FDA's prescription for health claims.
The 1990 Nutrition Labeling & Education Act allows only seven health claims in labels. But the FTC will allow other disease claims if well supported.
Consumer groups wanted the FTC to allow only those approved by the FDA.
That portion of the FTC statement also is of some concern to the GMA. VP Toni Guarino questioned its heavy reliance on the FDA petition process.
The FTC said it will carefully scrutinize any ad health claims that have not been subjected to the FDA's petition process for label claims previously unapproved.
Although ad claims aren't subject to pre-approval, Ms. Guarino said the emphasis on the FDA process could chill advertisers from making well-supported health claims.
Wally Snyder, American Advertising Federation president, also expressed concern that the policy statement could constrain marketers from making supported, though not FDA-approved, health claims.
The FTC was blasted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest for not duplicating the FDA's policy.
"This creates a loophole bigger than the Washington Beltway," said Bruce Silverglade, director of legal affairs.
He said the FTC's decision to allow qualified health claims perpetrated a hoax on consumers who have no way to determine the strength of support for the claim.
Mr. Silverglade said the disappointing FTC statement will reinvigorate the push for legislation, currently pending in both the House and Senate, to synchronize food advertising and labeling regulation.
Rep. Joe Moakley (D., Ma.) is the architect of legislation in the House while Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D., Ohio) is behind a proposal to transfer regulatory control over food advertising from the FTC to the FDA.
However, Mr. Snyder was encouraged that the FTC's strong reliance on the FDA and its labeling regulations would deter Congress from getting into the act.
"I'd find it surprising if most on Capitol Hill-and hopefully that includes Mr. Moakley-will not be satisfied with this document," said Mr. Snyder.