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Advocacy Groups Seek White House Help In Saving Food Marketing Guidelines

The Prevention Institute joined by other advocacy groups have launched the "We're Not Buying It" campaign to spotlight food marketing practices they say are harmful to children.

They want the Obama administration to stand up for the voluntary Interagency Working Group food marketing guidelines under attack from the industry, and which government agencies themselves have said will need modifying. The campaign includes an online petition drive for a letter to the President.

The head of the Federal Trade Commission and the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health & Human Services have both told concerned Republican lawmakers that they expect there will be "significant changes" to an Interagency Working Group's (IWG) recommended food marketing and nutrition principles.

"The Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children (IWG) has proposed reasonable, science-based nutrition guidelines to help provide a model for companies that market to kids. Unfortunately, the food industry and media companies are working to get Congress to stop the IWG from finalizing these sensible recommendations," said the group in announcing the campaign Thursday. Campaign supporters include the Center for Digital Democracy and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The Sensible Food Policy Coalition, an industry effort to combat what they see as a government effort to engineer a radical dietary shift, said the "so-called food advoactes" were on the wrong track.

"Childhood obesity is a national problem that will be most effectively addressed through constructive conversations with appropriate stakeholders: government, food and beverage companies, schools, parents and children themselves," said Dan Jaffe, EVP of the Association of National Advertisers and sSpokesperson for the coalition. "That is why we were saddened by the strident assertions made on today's teleconference call by so-called food advocates. These advocates continue to promote a set of Interagency Working Group proposals that have been acknowledged as highly flawed.

These "experts" claim the IWG has proposed "reasonable, science-based" guidelines for the food and beverage industry's advertising practices to children. In fact, despite a mandate from Congress to do so, no such scientific research has been cited by the IWG to support their sweepingly restrictive proposals... The fact remains that under the IWG proposal as it stands 88 of some of America's favorite 100 foods would be prevented from advertising. These include some of America's most popular - and healthy - foods such as whole wheat bread, 2% milk and bottled water."

But it is not just the industry that thinks the guidelines aren't ready to be finalized as written.

In a letter dated Sept. 27 to House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and his Republican colleagues, FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that they were still vetting the 29,000 comments it got on the draft principles, and anticipated making significant changes before they were finalized.

The Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Food Marketed to Children, comprising representatives from the FTC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the FDA and the USDA, recommended the new tough, but voluntary, food marketing guidelines to kids and teens last April and the Federal Trade Commission put them out for comment.

Those would include requiring foods marketed to kids to contain at least one of a list of healthy ingredients -- fruit, vegetable, whole grain, nuts, seeds -- and contain limited amounts of nutrients "with negative impact on health or weight," including limits on saturated fats, trans fat, added sugars and sodium.

The goal is to have all food marketed to kids meeting that standard by 2016. The foods it is targeting for alterations include "breakfast cereals; snack foods; candy; dairy products; baked goods; carbonated beverages; fruit juice and non-carbonated beverages; prepared foods and meals; frozen and chilled deserts; and restaurant foods."

Leibowitz and company were responding to a call from House Republican leaders that the principles be rescinded saying they were a shot in the dark based on insufficient information that could take down healthy foods in the process and have unanticipated negative effects on health and the economy.