On Eve of Congressional Hearing, FTC Makes Strategic Concessions on Food/Beverage Marketing Guidelines

Cross-posted at Forbes.com on WLF Contributor site

That wailing sound you hear is from nanny state activists decrying one federal agency’s willingness to make reasonable changes to the radical Interagency Working Group (IWG)  “Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts.”

The teeth-gnashing started two weeks ago when an IWG letter to House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (explained in this Legal Pulse post) indicated that the regulators were reassessing parts of the draft. Activists went into full spin mode, urging action from their far-flung foodie network to “save” the guidelines. Anyone who opposes the IWG’s guidelines as drafted, one former CEO of Sesame Workshop argued in an op-ed on The Hill, must be against kids.

Tomorrow, at a hearing before a House Energy & Commerce subcommittee, “Food Marketing: Can ‘Voluntary’ Government Restrictions Improve Children’s Health?”, the Federal Trade Commission’s David Vladeck will continue federal regulators’ march toward reason.  With testimony which may send nanny state activists into “Occupy Congressional Cafeterias” mode, Mr. Vladek will strike a conciliatory tone towards self-regulation and acknowledge that several aspects of the draft guidelines went overboard. Constricting the “voluntary” ad guidelines to ages 2-12 (down from 2-17), acting to protect companies’ trademark and trade dress rights, and preserving companies’ charitable giving and healthy-eating activities are among the promised changes.

Mr. Vladeck’s testimony, however, repeats the regulators’ and activists’ mantra that childhood obesity cannot be reduced without advertising limits. There is little scientific evidence to support this, and certainly no studies are definitive enough to warrant federal demands that companies “voluntarily” curtail commercial free speech. We hope that House subcommittee members challenge Mr. Vladeck on this point. It would be more than fair to ask if there’s little or no proof ad limits are needed to reduce childhood obesity, then why are federal agencies pursuing them?

In our mind, the answer lies in government’s unshakeable belief that it can and must alter the dietary choices that people make. Activists’ leading intellectuals peddle this ideological dogma in opinion pieces and through media interviews. The New York Times‘s Mark Bittman recently wrote that we need “action both cultural and political” to get us away from “junk” food.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg certainly agrees.  He remarked at a United Nations meeting on health problems related to factors such as diet:

To halt the worldwide epidemic of non-communicable diseases, governments at all levels must make healthy solutions the default social option. That is ultimately government’s highest duty.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack agrees too. He said to an audience of restauranteurs:

It’s going to take time for people’s taste to adjust and they will adjust over time, but it will take some time. So, we have to make sure that what we do is create the appropriate transition.”

Limitations on truthful, valuable information on food and beverages will do far more than simply fail to reduce obesity. They will expand government’s influence over our everyday consumption decisions and further the fallacy that Americans can’t be trusted to make their own choices.

2 thoughts on “On Eve of Congressional Hearing, FTC Makes Strategic Concessions on Food/Beverage Marketing Guidelines

  1. Pingback: Concessions Welcome, but Fall Short of What’s Needed on Federal Food Ad Principles « The Legal Pulse

  2. Pingback: Food law roundup

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