Food and Beverage Marketing Initiative Receives Positive Reviews
The Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) yesterday announced the details of the new marketing pledges of 11 major food, beverage and restaurant companies under the Council's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. The pledges were described at a joint forum hosted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on food marketing to children. Details of the pledges of the 11 companies participating in the CBBB Initiative are available at the BBB Website, http://www.bbb.org/
The pledges will result in major changes in the way food, beverage and restaurant companies market to children. The Initiative received generally complementary reviews, even from industry critics. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) stated: "I join with parents and families across the country today in commending these companies who have such tremendous impact on what children in America are eating and drinking." Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) stated: "These voluntary commitments made by the food and beverage industries are an important step forward. I believe they will contribute positively to efforts to address our nation's childhood obesity epidemic." Both warned, however, that they would be closely watching to see that companies lived up to their pledges and they encouraged other major marketers to join the program.
Dr. Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), described the Initiative as a major step forward. However, she warned that CSPI might consider lawsuits against those companies that are not part of the new program.
FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras also was very positive about the details of the CBBB Initiative and other steps taken by the marketing community to address childhood obesity. She argued that industry self-regulatory efforts can work much faster and more effectively than government regulation of speech. Majoras cautioned that addressing childhood obesity is a marathon, not a sprint, and that every segment of society must be actively engaged in the effort.
Speakers at the forum argued that there are several gaps in the new CBBB Initiative:
Not enough companies - while the 11 companies participating in the Initiative collectively account for an estimated two-thirds of children's food and beverage TV advertising expenditures in 2004, there are several large marketers that are not part of the program. Elaine Kolish, Director of the Initiative, expressed the hope that other major marketers would join the program.
Media companies not doing enough - while the new Initiative focuses specifically on food marketers, some argued that media and entertainment companies have not done enough to address childhood obesity in their programming and advertising practices.
No uniform nutrition standards - each of the 11 companies developed their own nutrition standards for their product portfolio, based on generally accepted nutrition guidelines. Critics argued that this would be confusing to consumers and that there should be one uniform nutrition standard that would be applied to all food and beverage marketers.
One critic, Professor Dale Kunkel from the University of Arizona, stated that the Initiative had fallen short by focusing on the marketing of "better for you" products rather than "healthy" products. He argued that while baked snack foods may be "better for you" than fried snack foods, they are still not "healthy" foods. He noted that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) had called in its 2005 report for a "balance" of advertising for "healthy" and "unhealthy" foods and that this should be the criteria for assessing whether legislation to mandate such a balance is necessary.
Several speakers also noted that the new marketing pledges of the 11 companies in the Initiative apply only to advertising primarily directed to children age 12 and under, and that children will continue to see food and beverage ads in general audience programming. Some urged the FTC to look closely at marketing efforts in the online world as well as television. Several speakers from consumer groups argued that we also need to focus on food advertising directed to young teens, who are highly susceptible to ads and have large independent disposable incomes.
At the end of the forum, Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, announced that the Commission would very soon issue compulsory process orders to 44 major food, beverage and restaurant companies, seeking detailed information on their marketing practices and expenditures in all media aimed at children. The FTC was directed by Congress to conduct this comprehensive study.