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Pressure Continues on Food Companies – At Home and Abroad

July 17, 2013

Last week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Financial Services and General Government renewed a provision in the appropriations bill barring the FTC from releasing a final Interagency Working Group (IWG) Report until a cost-benefit analysis is performed. But recent developments have not all been good news for food advertisers. Domestically, obesity was officially named a disease by the American Medical Association in June, which will certainly change the way that the medical community and policy makers view the obesity epidemic in the U.S.

Internationally, things have been heating up as well. Just recently, a new law has come into effect in Chile that places significant restrictions on the advertisement of foods considered high in calories, fat, salt, or sugar content. Under this law, foods in these categories must be labeled as such, and such products may not be sold in primary or secondary schools in Chile. There is an absolute prohibition on advertisements of these products targeted to children under the age of 14, and any use of so-called toys or prizes in connection with the sale of such products is banned. The Health Ministry of Chile must issue guidelines to determine which products qualify to be covered by the law before the law can be fully enforced.

In June, WHO Europe issued a report recommending increased restrictions on the marketing of foods high in fat, salt, and sugar (“HFSS”) to children. This report stated that a majority of advertisements in Europe are for HFSS foods and said there is a direct link between food advertising and obesity. WHO Europe also called industry efforts insufficient.

And the National Assembly of Ecuador recently passed a law with significant restrictions on all advertisements, including those for food products. Under the Ecuadorian law, all foreign ads (those for companies without a majority of the stockholders being Ecuadorian nationals or legal residents and those ads which do not have 80 percent or more of those contributing to the ad being Ecuadorian nationals or legal residents) will be banned. Any advertisement, including food advertisements, that will be shown during children’s programming must be approved by the country’s Health Ministry. The law also states that ads for any products whose regular use may “harm” the health of consumers (including alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and potentially some foods) are prohibited.

Also in June, back home at the federal level, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) sent a letter to Nickelodeon and Viacom urging them to ban advertisements for “unhealthy food” on the network. And in a separate press release about the letter, Senator Rockefeller called for the elimination of the advertising tax deduction for marketing of such foods.

Nevertheless, the food and beverage industry has a very positive story to tell. The industry has been proactive through its self-regulatory efforts, such as the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), in cutting more than a trillion five hundred million calories out of foods in just the last couple of years and in shifting the mix of food advertising directed to children 12 and under to healthier foods. As successful as these efforts have been, the pressure on governments to “do something” in response to the obesity problem will only continue to grow. It is our responsibility to help educate policymakers that we are working diligently to be part of the solution.

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