Much to the chagrin of nanny-state activists, federal regulators are starting to acknowledge how extreme and unworkable their “Preliminary Proposed
Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts” on food and beverage advertising directed at “children.”

As reported today in The Hill’s Healthwatch blog, the secretaries of HHS and Agriculture, as well as the Chairman of the FTC, jointly wrote Rep. Fred Upton in response to a letter he and 21 other Members of Congress sent regarding the preliminary principles. The agency heads notably stated that:

  • The Interagency Working Group (IWG) “anticipates making significant changes to both the marketing and nutrition principles as it develops final recommendations”
  • The IWG is aware of self-regulatory efforts set to go into effect by 2013 (explained here in a Legal Pulse Q&A with the Better Business Bureau’s Elaine Kolish) and it “intend[s] to take this significant development into account, as well as other stakeholder comments, when developing our final recommendations.”

These statements were of course carefully considered and heavily vetted before the Secretaries Vilsack and Sebelius, and Chairman Leibowitz sent their letter to Rep. Upton, so their significance cannot understated.

For the same reason, we are troubled by what went unsaid in the letter.  The Members’ letter harkens back to what Congress originally asked of the IWG: “‘to conduct a study’ and to develop recommendations [in the form of a report to Congress] for standards for the marketing of food to children and teenagers.” The letter points out that no such study has been done.  Also, the IWG’s draft, rather than reporting to Congress, speaks directly to food and beverage companies. WLF stressed this point as well in its comments to the IWG. The agency heads’ letter to Rep. Upton makes a general statement about reviewing “nutrition science and policy,” but avoids speaking directly to the legal requirement that a study be done.

Rep. Upton and his colleagues also wanted specific answers to questions such as:

  • What costs are involved?
  • How would such costs affect the price of food?
  • What impact on employment do you expect?
  • Are there examples of advertising restrictions that have reduced obesity in other countries?

How much will this cost, will jobs be lost in the process, and will it even work are questions many of us have in this time of economic hardship and federal budget crisis. The silence on these issues from the IWG’s draft principles document, and again from the agencies’ leaders in their letter, speaks volumes.

The 22 Members signing the letter joined WLF and countless other interested parties by urging the IWG to “withdraw the current proposal and start afresh.” The Agriculture Department, HHS, and FTC embrace the nanny-state activists’ belief that American consumers need protection from themselves, and that government, as Secretary Vilsack himself recently said, must create “an appropriate transition” for what Americans eat. So it’s full speed ahead on the IWG’s “voluntary” nutrition and marketing guidelines.