“It’s time to move on”

Without a doubt, those words are not what the food police and public health activists wanted to hear about one of their priority issues: advertising of food and beverages to children. That’s exactly what the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), however, said at a congressional hearing this past Monday.

FTC isn’t backing away from the issue entirely, mind you, but it seems the Commission won’t be pursuing an initiative we’ve written about frequently here at The Legal Pulse:  the Interagency Working Group’s (IWG) Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts.  The document became quite the bone of contention last year (for good reason, WLF believed). In one of our final posts of last year, Update: Congress Demands Cost-Benefit Be Done on Kids’ Food Ad Guidance, we noted that a federal appropriations bill ordered the IWG member agencies to assess the costs and benefits of the “voluntary” guidelines.

Now, three months later, the following exchange occurred between FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz and Representative Kevin Yoder at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Commission’s budget (video here, see 1:23):

Rep. Yoder: As we try to make reductions we have to prioritize things. Has the agency gone through and tried to prioritize those regulatory functions that it feels are of critical nature versus those that may more of a ‘want’ as opposed to a need? I just note the FTC’s engagement in this Interagency Working Group on the regulation of advertising on cereal and peanut butter and all these things . . . things like that may not be of the critical nature as maybe some of the other functions that you’re discussing. So has the agency gone through and looked at those?

Chairman Leibowitz: Food marketing. I’m hoping not to have to talk about this too much . . . but must note that it was mandated by Congress.  So we are keenly aware of the new language Congress has given us in the FY12 appropriation, and I think from the perspective of the Commission, it’s probably time to move on to other areas.  That would not be a priority, but food marketing and marketing to kids is a priority, but that particular initiative, it’s probably time to move on.”

Our kudos to the Chairman and the Commission for scrapping a document that went far beyond being a “report” to Congress, and instead drifted into the realm of regulation by informal guidance.

This effort to bring “disfavored” food and drink companies to heel seems to have failed, but expect a resulting uptick in public relations demonization, class action lawsuits, and other initiatives to regulate what we eat and information about it.

We encourage you to keep an eye on WLF’s Eating Away Our Freedoms website for the latest news and commentary on those types of activist efforts.