Major Food Companies Hijack FTC Workshop on Advertising to Kids: Government Fails to Protect Children’s Health

Date of Release: 

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

July 13, 2005
Susan Linn, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, 617-501-1797
Michele Simon, Center for Informed Food Choices, 510-435-2471
Jason A. Smith, Public Health Advocacy Institute, 617-373-8066
For Immediate Release

Major Food Companies Hijack FTC Workshop on Advertising to Kids:
Government Fails to Protect Children’s Health

“A public relations exercise for the food and advertising industries,” is what a coalition of public health advocates is calling the Federal Trade Commission’s and Department and Health and Human Services’ July14-15 workshop on “Marketing, Self-Regulation, and Childhood Obesity.”  Last year, the Institute of Medicine recommended that HHS convene a conference on setting improved food advertising guidelines and that the FTC monitor compliance with those standards.  Instead, the FTC and HHS have provided the food industry with yet another forum to deny that their marketing practices play any role in the epidemic of childhood obesity; two-thirds of the workshop panelists have ties to the food or advertising industries.

“By allowing the food industry to hijack this meeting, the FTC and HHS have abandoned their commitment to children and families," said psychologist Susan Linn, author of Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood and one of the workshop panelists without ties to industry. “These are the same companies whose marketing practices contribute to childhood obesity.  What we desperately need is a frank discussion about restricting junk food marketing to children, not a government sponsored PR event for Big Food.”

Workshops panelists include representatives from food companies such as General Mills, McDonald’s, and Pepsi; media companies and advertising agencies that rely on food advertising for revenue; as well as individuals and organizations that serve as paid consultants to the food industry.  In addition, the Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Association of National Advertisers, two groups whose mission is to advance the interests of the food industry, will be represented at the workshop.

“The Grocery Manufacturers of America is on record as opposing every state bill that would restrict the sale of junk food or soda in schools,” said Michele Simon, director of the Center for Informed Food Choices. “GMA’s heavy-handed lobbying is foiling efforts of local nutrition advocates and parents who are desperately trying to improve the health of our children.  That a group that doesn’t even pretend to care about what’s best for children is part of this discussion is an abomination of the process.”

Industry favors “self-regulation” as an alternative to government intervention. Yet, industry attempts to police itself as a guardian of public health is a 30-year experiment that has utterly failed, advocates say. The FTC should abide by the Institute of Medicine report and require that industry comply with its own guidelines and that industry demonstrate the effectiveness of self-regulation using accepted public health methods.

“Corporations are legally required to act in the interest of their shareholders and to place profits above public health and children’s welfare. In contrast, the government’s role is to protect its citizens, especially vulnerable young children, from environmental threats,” says Jason Smith, managing attorney for the Public Health Advocacy Institute. “We need the FTC to perform its oversight function.”

For more information, please see CCFC's comments to the Federal Trade Commission.


Government Abandons Children to Big Food (Common Dreams 7/21/05)

TV Feeds Kids Fewer Food Ads, FTC Staff Study Finds (Washington Post, 7/15/05)