Senate spending bill defends restrictions on food ads to youth

The financial services spending bill that cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee late Thursday urges regulators to quickly finish their work on voluntary restrictions for foods marketed to children.

A 2009 spending bill created an Interagency Working Group to develop voluntary standards and marketing definitions for foods marketed to children as part of the government's efforts to combat childhood obesity. The proposals have come under attack from both Republicans and the food industry, which say they would violate free-speech rights and do little for children's health.

"The committee recognizes the IWG's careful review of existing science, nutrition and marketing standards as it developed the proposed voluntary marketing principles," the committee report says. "The committee encourages the IWG to thoroughly consider the comments submitted by stakeholders. The committee further directs the IWG to submit the voluntary marketing principles in a final report to the committee by Dec. 15, 2011."

The language was championed by consumer advocacy groups, which hope it will counterbalance a rider in the House spending bill that would block the working group's recommendations.

"Our hope moving forward is that the supportive language in the Senate bill will balance out the negative language from the House bill," said Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, "and that the final bill that goes to the president will allow the agencies to continue their important work of finalizing reasonable, voluntary nutrition guidelines for food marketing to children unencumbered."