A motley group of lawmakers with little in common are now raising concerns about proposed restrictions on food advertising.
Nineteen senators from rural states demanded Thursday that federal agencies justify their call for stringent voluntary restrictions on marketing food marketing to children.
Four agencies — the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Trade Commission — have proposed voluntary guidelines for food companies in an effort to stem childhood obesity. Industry experts say the guidelines would curb free speech, cost jobs and do little for children's health.
The letter to the agency heads, spearheaded by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), requests the agencies to explain how they linked marketing to obesity. It also questions their nutritional recommendations and inquires about the economic impact to certain food sectors such as cereals, meats and cheese.
Critics of proposed restrictions on food marketing to children have found a new hook: jobs.
A food industry front group unveiled a new report Friday that concludes that the government's proposed restrictions on food marketing, aimed at curbing childhood obesity, could cause 74,000 Americans to lose their jobs. The report comes the same day the White House is reeling from news that the unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent last month.
"The last thing American families and the U.S. economy needs is more jobs at risk from misguided government action," Dan Jaffe, a spokesman for the Sensible Food Policy Coalition, said in a statement. "These advertising restrictions will put thousands of good-paying jobs at risk without demonstrably coming any closer to helping solve the serious obesity problem in the United States."
The FTC is pushing back hard on industry's campaign against proposed voluntary restrictions on food marketing to children.
Two congresswomen are gathering support for a clash over an agricultural spending bill that could affect what millions of public school children eat every day for breakfast and lunch.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) has introduced an amendment to repeal language in the bill that would require the Agriculture Department to revisit proposed nutrition regulations. While the appropriations language is couched in fiscal terms - it prohibits the new standards from increasing school lunch costs - it would also roll back the federal government's efforts to improve nutrition standards.
"Our schools can have a very powerful impact on the way our children eat and the lessons they learn about healthy living," Woolsey writes in a "Dear Colleague" letter that boasts the support of pediatricians, dietitians and myriad other public health groups. "However, foods with high concentrations of saturated fat, salt, and added sugars are sold every day on school campuses, undermining our investment in school lunches and breakfasts."
Simultaneously, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) is circulating a "Dear Colleague" letter to defeat Woolsey's amendment, which could come up as early as Wednesday.
"USDA acknowledges that these huge cost increases would be borne by states and localities - most likely through increased meal prices for middle income families and through cuts to existing educational programs," she writes. "We support report language accompanying the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill that directs USDA to propose new rules that do not force this massive unfunded mandate on our schools. The federal government cannot reasonably expect school districts to bear this additional funding burden at a time when state and local school budgets are being cut across the country."
The federal government said Thursday that it wants food manufacturers to meet certain nutritional standards for products marketed to children. A group of agencies said food marketed to kids should have limited amounts of fat, salt and sugar.