Tuesday, May 02, 2006

FTC releases report on food marketing to children

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today released a report on food marketing to children and childhood obesity. The report calls for voluntary efforts by the food and advertising industry, along with mild changes to the the industry's self-regulation procedures.
“Responsible, industry-generated action and effective self-regulation are critical to addressing the national problem of childhood obesity,” said FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. “The FTC plans to monitor industry efforts closely, and we expect to see real improvements.”
The reception from advocacy groups concerned about marketing to children was negative. Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert called the FTC report "a candy-coated present [for] the junk food industry."

Given the blandness of today's report, what may be more interesting is a forthcoming report that the FTC is preparing for a July 1 deadline, at the request of Congress. For that new report, FTC may request advertising industry research that has been proprietary. An Institute of Medicine report on marketing to children noted that the public research record on the effect of advertising is weak largely because the relevant proprietary research has not been shared. The FTC took public comments on its plans for that new report this month and recently published them on the agency website.

These public comments indicate the powerful advocacy coalition that keeps the FTC's hands bound firmly behind its back. Here (.pdf), for example, is the comment from the Promotion Marketing Association (described as "the leading trade association representing the promotional marketing industry").
Furthermore, PMA remains deeply concerned with First Amendment implications of any additional regulation that would unduly curtail non-deceptive and non-misleading practices in this area. The restriction of children’s food advertising, no matter how truthful, merely to satisfy those who might criticize any advertising methods, runs a serious risk of being more restrictive than necessary to achieve the government’s intended goal of protecting American children, all in violation of First Amendment jurisprudence.

PMA remains firmly committed to participating in this debate and aiding the Commission in the task assigned to it by Congress. If the Commission engages in any further inquiry on this topic, PMA wishes to participate fully in any Commission initiatives.
I am sure PMA will get to participate fully.