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Leibowitz: Look For New Industry Food Marketing Guidelines Next Week

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told a Hill hearing audience Thursday to expect new self-regulatory guidelines to be issued by food marketers in the next week or so.

That came at a government regulatory reform hearing in the House Oversight Subcommittee Thursday.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said she was concerned about food marketing guidelines the FTC had issues, saying they could hamper free speech and the economy without reducing childhood obesity. She also pointed out that some of the food in a USDA program would not meet those guidelines.

She asked the chairman whether they weren't actually government standards rather than voluntary.

Leibowitz countered that they were indeed voluntary, that the FTC had no enforcement authority, and that the FTC guidelines were issued at the direction of Congress in FTC appropriation legislation.

He added, saying he was speaking for himself rather than the agency, that he took a pragmatic view and that, if his own kids were eating Special K cereal and yogurt for breakfast, which he conceded would not quite meet the new FTC guidelines, he would be "pretty happy" with that.

He said that food marketer guidelines should be forthcoming by next week, and that "if they come up with good ones, which I think they will," that should be taken into account.

Leibowitz said the FTC should not impose any kind of top-down technology mandate on online privacy protection, which was in response to Blackburn asking if it should. Heimowitz has consistently said that online privacy protections should be flexible and be led by industry self-regulation rather than government mandate. A top-down regime "is the last thing you want to do."

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, another witness at the hearing, fielded a lot of questions about the FCC network neutrality rules. That was one of the regs many Republicans on the committee think ought to be reformed by scrapping or defunding them.

He said the commissioners did not have enough time to thoroughly vet changes to those rules, which came just before midnight on the eve of the vote, which he dissented from.

Asked by Blackburn whether, if the FCC had done an impact analysis on the network neutrality regs, it would have voted the way it did, McDowell said yes. He repeated his assertion that the rules were an outcome-driven decision and said that, because of that, the majority would have approved them whether or not they had gotten the kind of market or impact analyses that Republicans, including McDowell, have said were noticeably absent.

McDowell also again called for the commission to close the open docket on Title II reclassification, which keeps that option open if the court rules against the compromise network neutrality reg approach, which achieved somewhat grudging industry support as an alternative to the nuclear option of Title II.

While the FCC majority got hammered by Republicans in absentia over the network neutrality rule process--chairman Julius Genachowski was unable to attend--Leibowitz and the FTC got a shout out from FCC critic Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.). He told Leibowitz he was doing a good job, and applauded the dual appearance of Leibowitz, a Democrat, and Republican Commissioner William Kovacic--the two alternated speaking--saying that was an example of working together that the country expects. "Jon, you're doing a good job," he said. Leibowitz waited for a caveat, but Terry said none was forthcoming.

Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) summed up the Republican criticisms, saying that the FCC was taking conclusion-driven actions, citing network neutrality regs and its 706 broadband competition report, and was not completing reviews on time.