The Obama administration overstepped its bounds by telling the food and beverage industry to completely revamp recipes to eliminate certain amounts of sugar, salt and fat, or quit advertising their products to kids, say Capitol Hill lawmakers.
“This appears to be a first step toward Uncle Sam planning our family meals,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R.-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Upton and other House Republicans are telling the administration to completely withdraw its proposal and do what Congress originally told them to two years ago: Conduct a study on potential links between childhood obesity and advertising, and report their findings to Congress.
HUMAN EVENTS first broke the story earlier this summer that this new bureaucracy called the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children bypassed the congressional mandate, and instead issued these new recommendations that the food industry says will cost more than $28 billion in revenues and manufacturing the first year it takes effect.
That also means goodbye to Tony the Tiger, Count Chocula, and that bird that’s kookoo for Cocoa Puffs.
The Obama bureaucrats were called before a joint House subcommittee last week to explain themselves and said, “There is a linear relationship between television viewing and obesity.”
That’s according to Dr. William Dietz, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said the marketing of food plays an “important role.”
“The more television a child watches, the more likely they are to consume food while watching television. And those foods are more likely to be the foods that are advertised on television,” Dietz said.
Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R.-Calif.) said she was concerned that foods considered healthy are also on the hit list, along with water, oatmeal and lettuce, and that the guidelines would take a heavy financial toll on the industry that would be passed on to the consumers.
“Hopefully, we can get some straight answers to these and some other very important questions before committing to a national policy that may shrink family budgets but not waistlines,” Bono said.
“People are smart enough to recognize that Girl Scout cookies or a cake bought at a bake sale are not health foods, and then act accordingly,” Bono said. “But that said, I still remain very concerned that healthy foods like yogurt could wind up not meeting these new standards. So much for counting calories,” Bono said.
The Interagency Working Group was directed by Congress to present a report to lawmakers on suggested standards for marketing food to children, along with recommendations on how to make it happen. Congress never got the report, and the so-called suggestions went straight to the industry, which says it will cost millions of dollars to retool the contents of food to meet the strict guidelines.
Numerous lawmakers at the hearing reminded the government workers they are still waiting to see the report they asked for.
“Frankly, we’d like to find out what you have been cooking up in the kitchen. Right now, I’m not sure that I like the smell of it,” Bono said.
Dan Jaffe, executive vice president for government relations for the Association of National Advertisers, called the proposals “unprecedented and extreme.”
“These guidelines need to be formally withdrawn and taken back to the drawing board,” Jaffe said.
Interestingly, Pitts said the new recommendations are based on nutritional standards that conflict with other government programs, including some that are administered by these same agencies, such as the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program, the school lunch program, and food stamps.
“The guidelines are so restrictive that many healthy foods, like low-fat yogurts, whole-wheat bread and 2% milk, could not be marketed to those 17 and under.
“Cereals, even non-sweetened cereals, would not meet the (new recommended) guidelines, including Cheerios,” Pitts said.
“According to one analysis, 88 out of the 100 most-advertised foods and drinks would be in violation of these standards.”
“Please don’t misunderstand. I am very concerned about the obesity epidemic in our nation. Frankly, banning peanut butter commercials during hours when they may be watching TV is not going to accomplish that goal,” Pitts said.
The federal agencies told the panel they would be willing to make some alterations, such as changing the age of those targeted from 18 to children younger than 12.
But the Sensible Food Policy Coalition, which represents some of the affected industries, said the companies covered by the new proposal would be economically devastated.
“Let’s be very clear: Not a single scientific study has found sufficient evidence linking food marketing to obesity in children,” the coalition said.