Bowing to industry pressure, the Federal Trade Commission announced that its final proposed voluntary guidelines to protect children from predatory marketing would not require food corporations to remove “brand equity characters from food products that don’t meet nutrition guidelines.”
The FTC’s decision is extremely disappointing, and prioritizes the interests of corporations such as McDonald’s and PepsiCo over kids’ health.
McDonald’s deploys its ubiquitous mascot in myriad ways—in schools, community events—wherever children congregate—for the sole purpose of building brand loyalty from a very young age. And often at these appearances, there’s not a Happy Meal in sight. Because McDonald’s knows the key to getting kids to nag their parents to visit McDonald’s is getting vulnerable children to fall in love with Ronald first, and Chicken McNuggets second.
If the federal government backs off setting some minimal guidelines for how these characters can be utilized, it would set a dangerous precedent, potentially even undermining state and local policy along with other legal actions to stop this predatory marketing practice.
Obviously the Obama Administration is under tremendous political pressure from the food industry, in addition to the powerful advertising industry lobby. But the entire process of the Interagency Working Group was compromised early on because government officials agreed with the food corporations that voluntary, self-regulation is a viable solution to junk food marketing to kids.
Decades of experience combined with ample scientific research, not to mention common sense, tells us that relying on the food industry to police itself is futile. Having federal agencies provide guidance to the food industry to improve their own voluntary standards was wishful thinking at best. In the process of trying to gain food industry cooperation, the Federal Trade Commission seems to have forgotten its own motto: “Protecting America’s Consumers.” You would hope that kids would be at the top of the list for FTC protection.
Federal officials should stop hiding behind free speech rhetoric, pretending that voluntary self-regulation will work, and instead roll up their sleeves and get to work drafting legally feasible safeguards against predatory junk food marketing to children. It’s the best solution we have.
Kcolwell via Flickr