Food industry must fight back

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The American Academy of Pediatrics last week released a policy statement demanding such severe limits on advertising aimed at kids that the first impulse is to laugh them off. Banning junk-food ads in their entirety, halving advertising on kids' shows, placing restrictions on adult-targeted alcohol advertising-even if this were to be taken seriously, it certainly, as the ANA's Dan Jaffe pointed out, "would never pass constitutional muster."

Then again, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg implemented a ban on trans-fats in city restaurants. It's only a short leap of logic from trans-fats to-to pick just one random example-cholesterol-laden milk. Sure, it seems silly. But 10 years ago, few would have believed that smoking would be illegal in bars and fat would be illegal in restaurants. Common sense, constitutionality and personal responsibility be damned if it's "for the good of the people."

Yet where are marketers in this battle? Apparently, dividing their time between appeasing their critics and handing them more ammunition.

Food marketers need to do two things. First, they should avoid making spurious claims about their products. The budding "functional" drinks sector -- who knew sweetened water could boost intelligence AND burn calories? -- is one area where companies are practically begging for regulation.

Second, they should take a stand. Self-regulation is a good thing. But it's quite possible for an industry to self-regulate itself into a corner. Marketers should say, "We've done our part to behave responsibly, now it's up to individual consumers to monitor what they (and their children) eat. We won't be held responsible and we will fight tooth and nail for our businesses."

But lately, we've seen only half-hearted attempts at fighting and entirely too many press releases about voluntarily curbing this and curbing that. With each surrender, consumer groups and well-meaning politicians only get hungrier for another bite out of the industry. Perhaps food companies plan on retreating only so far and then waving the First Amendment around in an attempt to protect the little ground they haven't given up.

They'd do well to remember how that worked out for the tobacco industry.
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