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Food Marketers Prep Guidelines

7/11/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Food companies are preparing to issue
new self-regulatory guidelines on marketing their wares to
children, according to Federal Trade Commission chairman
Jon Leibowitz.

At a government regulatory reform hearing in the House
Oversight Subcommittee last week, regulators, including
Federal Communications Commission member Robert Mc-
Dowell, were probed on how seriously their agencies took the
president’s call for regulatory reviews.

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

Those guidelines would include requiring foods marketed
to kids to contain at least one of a list of healthy ingredients —
fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and 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 FTC conceded at the time that the goals, produced by
The Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children,
comprising representatives from the FTC, the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the FDA and the
USDA, “are ambitious and would take time to put into place,”
but said the public health stakes could not be higher.

Driving the guidelines is the epidemic in childhood obesity,
an issue that First Lady Michelle Obama has made a priority
and which drives up health-care costs to the tune of billions
of dollars.

At last week’s hearing, Blackburn asked the chairman
whether the guidelines weren’t actually going to be de facto
government standards, rather than voluntary guides.

Leibowitz countered that the standards were indeed voluntary,
that his agency had no enforcement authority, and that
the FTC guidelines were issued at the direction of Congress in
FTC appropriation legislation. He added that 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 — two foods that would not quite meet
the new FTC guidelines, he conceded — 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 factored in.

FTC ‘FLEXIBLE’ ON PRIVACY

Leibowitz said the FTC should not impose any kind of topdown
technology mandate on online privacy protection,
which was in response to Blackburn asking if it should. He
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,” he said.

FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, another witness
at the hearing, fielded a lot of questions about the FCC’s
network-neutrality rules. That was one of the regulations
many Republicans on the committee think ought to be
abolished or defunded.

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 last
December. McDowell dissented.

Asked by Blackburn if the FCC would have voted
for network neutrality had it first conducted an impact
study, McDowell said yes. He repeated his assertion
that the rules were an outcome-driven decision.
He said the agency’s Democratic majority would have
approved them whether or not they’d been subjected
to 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 reclassifying broadband
Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications
Act. The docket keeps that option open if a
federal court rules against the compromise networkneutrality
regulatory approach, which achieved somewhat
grudging industry support as an alternative to the
so-called nuclear option of Title II reclassification.

While the FCC majority was hammered in absentia by
Republicans over the network-neutrality rule process —
chairman Julius Genachowski was unable to attend — Leibowitz
and the FTC were praised bty 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.

The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.),
summed up the Republican criticisms of the FCC, saying
that the regulator was taking conclusion-driven actions,
citing network-neutrality regulations and its broadbandcompetition
report, and that it was not completing reviews
on time.

 

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