|Sen. Thom Harkin, shown here on a healthy food campaign with Semsame Street's Rosita, blasted the food industry again today.
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Standing in a Capitol Hill hearing room behind a long table crammed with food and toy products featuring characters such as Shrek, Spider-Man and even Barbie clad in a McDonald's uniform, Mr. Harkin held up a book titled The Oreo Counting Book: 10 to 1 Is so Much Fun and called the marketing efforts by the food industry "obscene."
Joe Camel and Shrek
“We got rid of Joe Camel. We’ve got to get rid of Shrek,” he said, holding large pictures of both.
Shrek is a character from two wildly popular animated movies from DreamWorks that has been used in a variety of promotions and tie-ins, notably with General Mills for a number of brands, including cookies, cereal and popcorn. Joe Camel was the tobacco industry cartoon character from R.J. Reynolds that proved to be that industry's marketing undoing.
He also chastised the advertising industry’s own regulatory body, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit: "CARU has been around for 30 years and look what we have," he said. "What have they done?"
CARU yesterday announced its intentions to enforce a new level of advertising oversight, saying it will more aggressively police its members' youth-oriented ad practices.
"Food companies are increasingly aggressive in marketing unhealthy food to our children through a wide variety of innovative strategies -- cartoon tie-ins, 'advergaming' and cross-promotions -- with a goal of encouraging young children to consumer unhealthy products," Mr. Harkin said in a letter to be sent to the CEOs of 38 food and fast-food companies, which he said were "complicit" in the rise of overweight children. The letter is also being sent to Hollywood studios, broadcast companies and trade associations.
Noting some marketers have taken steps recently to adjust their products and ad messages, he said in the letter that many haven't. "There remain significant and concerted efforts to market unhealthy food to our children."
Pushing ahead with legislation
Mr. Harkin said he was pushing ahead with legislation to give the Federal Trade Commission more authority over children's marketing and the agriculture secretary the power to ban junk food from schools unless food marketers respond voluntarily and quickly.
Manly Molpus, president-CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers of American, in a statement said food makers have introduced more healthy products and that they continue to review advertising and marketing practices.
Trade group response
“Effective solutions to obesity must take a comprehensive approach, incorporating sound nutrition, increased physical activity, consumer and parent education, and community support. Above all, the focus should be on giving parents the information they need to ensure their children eat a nutritionally-balanced diet and get the right amount of physical activity.”
He said the industry has a 30-year record of successfully working with CARU to monitor ads to children along with individual company programs that ensure communications to children are done responsibly. "All of these industry efforts are under continual review to ensure they meet the highest possible standards," he said.