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Appropriations Bill Delays FTC Food Marketing Guidelines

Looks like the FTC won't have to be in any hurry to come up with final recommendations on guidelines for marketing food to kids.

The final version of the appropriations bill that passed the House Friday and headed to the Senate and will need to be approved to avoid a shut-down, includes a provision that requires a cost-benefit analysis before the FTC can make any final recommendations.

Food marketers had complained about the guidelines, with the backing of some Republicans who called for that cost-benefit analysis.

FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz has repeatedly pointed out that they were only guidelines and not rules.

"Congress has clearly changed its mind about what it would like the Interagency Working Group to do with regard to the report on food marketed to children," said FTC spokeswoman Cecelia Prewett. "The Interagency Working Group [charged with coming up with the recommendations] will be assessing its language and working toward Congressional intent."

At Leibowitz's confirmation hearing last month, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) expressed concern about the proposed food marketing guidelines, whose original draft drew heavy fire from ad agencies for being overly restricted. She pointed out that some of the foods -- yogurt and 2% milk -- whose marketing the guidelines suggested could be restricted, were on the list of foods approved HHS and the Agriculture Department in their 2010 dietary guidelines.

Leibowitz had told the Senate Commerce Committee Nov. 15 that he hoped to get the FTC's final recommendations out soon, but pointed out  they were only that. He also pointed out that the FTC's portion of the interagency working group recommendations were focused on marketing, not dietary guidelines, and that he, too, was surprised when he learned that his daughter's breakfast of Special K and yogurt would not pass muster.

The chairman had said the guidelines were modified to reflect stakeholder input, including recommending they apply to 2-11 year olds rather than extending them to up to 17-year-olds. There would also be other carve-outs. In fact, he said the new guidelines would pretty much track with self-regulatory proposals by industry, which he pointed out the release of the draft guidelines helped prompt after half a decade of pushing by the FTC.