Key Congressional Leaders Strongly Question Proposed Food Ad Guidelines

September 13, 2011

An important letter was sent yesterday to the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children’s (IWG) proposed guidelines for food marketed to children.  This letter, from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and signed by 21 other House members, including three subcommittee chairs, seeks a number of long-overdue answers from the IWG.

The letter notes that the initial request from Congress required a “study” of the issue, and not recommendations directed to industry. Chairman Upton and his colleagues called the proposed recommendations formulated without the benefit of a study “little better than a shot in the dark.”  The letter notes the profound problems with the guidelines as devised by the IWG – including the difficulties of reformulating products to meet the guidelines, the broad definition of “directed to children” and what marketing activities are covered.  In addition, the letter notes that there is no evidence that the guidelines would help reduce childhood obesity.  It also highlights the misnomer of labeling these proposals as “voluntary” in light of the fact that they have the weight of the government behind them.

The 22 signers strongly called on the agencies to withdraw the proposal and conduct the study as required by Congress.  The letter concludes with 10 detailed, pointed questions to the IWG, demanding answers by September 27th.  These questions seek more information on whether the study to Congress will be completed, how the guidelines were devised, what evidence there is the guidelines would reduce childhood obesity, the costs to industry and to the economy the guidelines would impose, and whether any alternatives were considered. 

ANA, other sister associations and many representatives from the food, beverage and restaurant communities have been highlighting these concerns with policymakers on Capitol Hill since the guidelines were released in late April.  We are encouraged that Congress is asking these critical questions of the IWG and requesting that it conduct a study before issuing any recommendations.  This letter is especially important since the House Energy and Commerce Committee has significant oversight authority over the actions of the FTC, FDA, and CDC.  We hope the Committee can convince the agencies to reconsider their sweeping, overly restrictive and misguided proposal. 

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