LEAVE FOOD AD POLICY ALONE

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It was good to see the Federal Trade Commission's guidelines for health and nutrition claims in food advertising follow so quickly on the heels of the initial effective date of the new federal food labeling law. Timing for the long awaited release of FTC's advertising policy paper turned out to be perfect given the top-of-mind awareness of the labeling issue.

Basically, the FTC road map describes a sensible middle path for policing food ads. The commission's guidelines adopt the Food & Drug Administration's label definitions and terminology, and that means marketers-and consumers-won't be confused when trying to read the route signs to clear and healthy communication of product information.

But they also provide food marketers some needed flexibility in bringing new information about diet and health to consumers.

This, however, isn't good enough for some food industry critics. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, for example, is stirring things up by urging new legislation. The group says FTC's guides fall short because they don't require FDA pre-approval of any food ad claim regarding diet or health not already certified by FDA for labels.

FTC has said it will allow, but give careful scrutiny to, well-supported health claims that haven't gone through FDA's label-approval process. And that's the proper approach; ad jurisdiction rests with FTC, which understands the marketplace and knows that what marketers in a hot, competitive marketplace don't need is another layer of copy approval.

Those opposed to FTC's approach argue that Congress should step in, in all probability creating nothing but headaches for advertisers while keeping valuable information from consumers. Two congressmen are talking about working together for a bill, hoping to mollify both sides, but there's just no good reason for special food ad legislation, especially with the full plate now in front of Congress.

If there were turf disputes between the two regulatory bodies, then maybe congressional action would be called for. But not when FTC and FDA are acting in concert.

With all the anticipation, let's sit back and enjoy the music. If there's a wrong note here, it's coming from those who can't leave well enough alone.

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