Junk Food Bust: Federal Standards Restrict Marketing to Kids

Jul 8, 2010
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.
“Fruit” in the name doesn’t mean it came from a tree. (Photo: oskay/Creative Commons)

Food fights have a way of creating sides. Not your standard, run-of-the-mill food fights, but the kind that spark campaigns like "Retire Ronald"—an effort aimed at cutting ties between McDonald's and its beloved, child-enticing clown.

On one side are people who think government and big corporations have a role in regulating how food is produced, subsidized and—crucially—marketed.

On the other: laissez-faire, caveat emptor freethinkers who believe everyone should have the right to consume slanted, obfuscated, cartoon-pitched sales materials influencing what goes into their bodies, and their kids' bodies—good or bad. 

The clout of that second group might explain why there's been a seven-month delay since the federal government released a document on nutritional standards for food that is marketed to kids.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) signed off on the guidelines. So did the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the stamp of approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is conspicuously absent. The document hangs in limbo.

Could it be that lobbyists for the food industry have entered the game?

The document, created by the FTC, the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the USDA, is threatening to the food industry for a couple of reasons. One: It aims to put a blockade between companies and the clients they most want to reach—kids. Two: It would require food marketed to kids to meet certain nutritional standards, which means some companies would have to rethink—and in some cases, recreate—their product.

As long as watchdog groups and reformers have been calling for change, the food industry has been pushing back (usually via lobbyists). It's easy to see why.

As Melanie Warner of Bnet puts it:

The problem for food manufacturers like Kraft (KFT), General Mills, (GIS) and Kellogg (K) is that under these criteria, the current versions of lunchbox staples like Lunchables and Pop-Tarts couldn’t be marketed to kids 2-17. Also not making the cut are most sugary kids’ breakfast cereals—not because of the sugar, but because they don’t have enough whole grain or other real foods.

The battle to demand real food from the food industry seems like a funny war to wage—but it's a very real one, particularly in an era defined by pre-packaged meals and ready-to-eat snacks.

The document as it currently stands (remember, it must still be approved by the USDA, which could mean many revisions to come) requires the following:

Food must contain one or more of the following per RACC (Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed Per Eating Occasion):

  • 0.5 cups fruit or fruit juice
  • 0.6 cups vegetables or vegetable juice
  • 0.75 oz. equivalent of 100% whole grain
  • 0.75 cups milk or yogurt; 1 oz. natural cheese; 1.5 oz. processed cheese
  • 1.4 oz. meat equivalent of fish or extra lean meat or poultry
  • 0.3 cups cooked dry beans
  • 0.7 oz. nuts or seeds
  • 1 egg or egg equivalent

Foods marketed to children must not contain more than the following amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and sodium.

  • Saturated Fat: 1 g or less per RACC and not more than 15% of calories
  • Trans Fat: 0 g per RACC (<0.5 g)
  • Sugar: No more than 13 g of added sugars per RACC
  • Sodium: No more than 200 mg per portion

Are these unreasonable terms?

Depends on who you ask.

Photo: oskay/Creative Commons via Flickr

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