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The Food Fight Grows

July 31, 2013

A new front in the ongoing assault against food, beverage and restaurant marketing has recently opened up.  

Last week, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced legislation (H.R. 2831) to eliminate the tax deductibility of advertising expenses for marketing to children of “food of poor nutritional quality.” It uses the most recent Dietary Guidelines to determine which foods meet the criteria, and broadly defines marketing to include advertising on television, radio, print, the Internet and social media, product packaging, point of sale displays, character licensing, and celebrity endorsements. The use of the Dietary Guidelines is significant in that the guidelines proposed by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (consisting of the FDA, FTC, USDA and CDC) set far more sweeping and stringent nutritional standards for which foods could be marketed to children. If the IWG guidelines ever were to take effect, it could lead to an extremely high baseline for marketing food and beverages to children.    

Meanwhile, a senior member of the U.S. Senate is also pressing to get rid of the tax deduction. Recently, four powerful members of the U.S. Senate – Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) – recently wrote a letter to Viacom urging it to implement strong nutrition standards for marketing. In a statement released concurrently with the letter, Senator Rockefeller noted that he is working to eliminate the tax deduction for advertising of “junk food” to children. As Senator Rockefeller states, “this effectively results in the federal government footing the bill for corporations to market junk food and sugary beverages – that are directly tied to increased rates of obesity – to children.” His statement further indicates that he will push for a provision to end the deduction as part of the Senate Finance Committee’s consideration of tax reform. As the second ranking member of the Senate’s tax writing committee, Rockefeller’s views have to be seriously considered.  

Obesity continues to be a major health concern.The American Medical Association recently recognized obesity as a disease. The pressure on Congress to be seen as taking action against a public health threat will remain high. These proposals to end the tax deductibility of some food advertising are a clear shot across the bow.

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