Lawmakers tell administration to back off on food ad restrictions for kids

More than 100 House members and 25 senators of both parties have sent at least seven letters to federal regulators over the past month urging them to back off proposed restrictions on food advertising for children.

The guidelines, released in April, aim to fight childhood obesity by asking food companies to voluntarily refrain from advertising to children foods that don't meet specific nutritional standards. The food industry says the guidelines would hurt business and cost jobs while doing little or nothing to curb obesity.

A motley group of lawmakers with little in common are now raising similar concerns. Everyone from freshmen Republicans worried about government overreach to lawmakers who represent dairy farmers and candy makers is weighing in as federal regulators sift through the public comments they've received about their preliminary proposal.

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The guidelines are voluntary, but some critics say the food industry is heavily regulated and unlikely to want to rub government officials the wrong way. They also worry that food companies that don't want to abide by the guidelines - and media companies that might want to run their ads - could hold back because of the fear of being ostracized.

The strongest critics, predictably, have been on the right.

Freshmen House Republicans decry the "alarming regulatory overreach" of the proposal and are asking regulators to simply withdraw it.

And 18 Senate Republicans, joined by Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, want the administration to "withhold any further actions" until regulators answer questions about the science behind their proposal and its potential impact on jobs and the economy.

Additionally, 15 of the 19 members of Pennsylvania's House delegation warned that under the proposed guidelines, "most food and beverage products manufactured in the state of Pennsylvania" - America's biggest candy maker - "could no longer be marketed to children and teens."

"We strongly urge you," the letter says, "to withdraw these overreaching and misguided principles that blatantly discriminate against an industry that has made extensive voluntary strides over the years to reduce advertising to children."

Likewise, the bipartisan Dairy Farmers Caucus points out that under the proposed guidelines "many cheeses, yogurts, and some fluid milk" would fall short - even though the Department of Agriculture believes that dairy is essential for healthy children.

Democrats for the most part have been more muted in their criticism, not least because the fight against childhood obesity is a priority for First Lady Michelle Obama.

A letter signed by 34 centrist House Democrats argues that more information "on the economic costs and benefits" of the proposal is needed before going forward.

And six Democratic senators - Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Robert Casey (Pa.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Kristen Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Michael Bennet (Col.) - wrote to "encourage [regulators] to give thorough consideration to the 'real world impacts' associated with these recommendations."

Meanwhile, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) sent his own letter, arguing that the regulators working on the proposal have produced "no evidence that I am aware of that the proposed restrictions will serve the government's goals of changing long-term eating habits."

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