The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Health and Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade held a joint hearing today to examine the Interagency Working Group's proposed food marketing principles. In 2009, Congress formed an Interagency Working Group, comprised of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to complete a study on food marketing to children and report back to Congress. Instead of providing the study, the IWG proposed an overreaching set of "voluntary" principles.
"These principles are based on nutritional standards that exceed and conflict with those of other government programs, some administered by the same agencies--such as the WIC program, school lunch program, and SNAP program," said Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-PA). "These guidelines are so restrictive that many healthy foods, like low-fat yogurt, whole wheat bread, and 2 percent milk could not be marketed to those 17 and under."
Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) said, "While this initiative was portrayed as a helping hand to parents -- to reduce children's exposure to advertising for foods with limited nutritional value -- to many of us and our constituents, this appears to be a first step toward Uncle Sam planning our family meals. The IWG's preliminary proposal states flatly that foods would have to be reformulated, and in some cases may disappear altogether."
Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee Chairman Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) said, "As a former small business owner, I am troubled by the impact that the IWG's Nutrition Principles could have on smaller U.S. companies, which often struggle to comply with these types of standards. I am anxious to learn what steps are being taken to ensure that thousands of Americans don't lose their jobs at a time when unemployment nationwide stands at a stubborn 9.1 percent."
In response to Pitts' questions regarding how the marketing principles would impact jobs and the economy, the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Director William Dietz admitted the IWG did not study the proposal's impact on charitable organizations, the price of food, and jobs.
Jim Baughman, Senior Marketing Counsel for Campbell's Soup Company, urged the IWG to withdraw its proposal and explained, "the nutritional criteria in the IWG proposal are unrealistic, counterproductive, contrary to established nutrition policy as set forth in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, and entirely fail to address obesity." In response to claims that the Working Group's proposal are voluntary, Baughman said, "dictating "voluntary' standards to industry will be less effective than genuine self-regulation, which is the only practical way to achieve meaningful changes in foods marketed to children."
Elaine D. Kolish, Vice President and Director of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative at the Council of Better Business Bureaus, testified to the merits and successes of self-regulation as more effective means to fight childhood obesity. "Self-regulation has accomplished a significant amount in just a few short years--it's changed not only the way products are advertised to kids, but the expectations about what should and should not be advertised to kids," said Kolish.
Beth Johnson, testifying on behalf of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, expressed concern over the economic impacts of IWG's proposed guidelines and warned, "Banning marketing of most foods would have significant impacts on farm and food jobs and on charitable organizations." Johnson urged the administration to abandon the IWG's proposed marketing restrictions and to instead complete a cost benefit analysis of the proposal.