Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. regulators, facing resistance from companies including Nestle SA, the world’s biggest food company, and Kellogg Co., scaled back proposed guidelines that may have limited advertising to children for food with added sugars, salt and saturated fat.
The final guidelines from four agencies will recommend restricting food ads targeted only at children younger than 12, David Vladeck, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Protection Bureau, said today at a hearing.
Recommendations proposed in April by a working group of officials from the FTC and three other U.S. agencies would have urged companies not to market food to anyone under age 18, through “child- or teen-oriented” advertisements, cartoon characters, models or activities. The voluntary restrictions would have covered foods with more than 13 grams of added sugars, 210 grams of sodium or 1 gram of saturated fat.
“The draft recommendations we issued were ambitious,” Vladeck said at a joint hearing of two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees. “As we studied the comments, however, we realized that perhaps we were too ambitious.”
The Obama administration is trying to reduce a child obesity rate that has almost tripled since 1980 to 17 percent, or 12.5 million Americans, William Dietz, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director of nutrition and obesity programs, said at the hearing.
Nestle and Kellogg, the biggest U.S. breakfast-cereal maker, are among companies that called the plan overly broad and unworkable. The recommendations would have caused Kellogg, of Battle Creek, Michigan, “severe financial harm” because the company may have had to remove Tony the Tiger from its Frosted Flakes boxes in order to comply, Kellogg said in a July 14 letter to the working group.
The working group “has not provided any evidence that its proposed restrictions on marketing will impact youth obesity rates,” Nestle said the same day in a letter to the FTC.
Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group, said the recommendations were weakened.
Industry “resorted to a misleading campaign of fear-mongering” to kill the working group’s proposal, she said.
Laurie MacDonald, a Nestle spokeswoman, and spokesmen for Kellogg didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment.
‘Much in Common’
The working group, also comprised of officials from the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is easing the recommendations to address concerns raised by industry and lawmakers, Vladeck said. The revisions will “share much in common” with a less stringent set of guidelines offered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, he said.
The council’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative announced in July that member companies including Nestle, Kellogg and Kraft Foods Inc. will stop marketing some foods to children after 2013 unless sugar, sodium and fat are reduced. The industry’s nutrition criteria includes a 350-calorie limit for main dishes marketed to kids younger than 12, and caps child-targeted cereals at 10 grams of added and naturally occurring sugar combined. Kellogg’s current sugar standard is 12 grams for cereals advertised to children.
The framework of the council’s program “has much to recommend it, and I’m confident that this framework will be reflected in the final working group report,” Vladeck said.
The working group should withdraw its proposed guidelines instead of revising them, Republican lawmakers and industry representatives including Jim Baughman, senior marketing counsel at Campbell Soup Co., the world’s biggest soup maker, said at the hearing.
While U.S. officials emphasized the guidelines will be voluntary, Baughman said companies will feel compelled to follow them because “these four agencies are the agencies that regulate our business, that have the power to shut us down.”
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