Posted by: David Kiley on June 22, 2007
After Kellogg announced as part of a lawsuit settlement that it would drastically cut its advertising of food with poor nutritional profiles to kids under age 12, a Democratic Congressman is pressuring other food giants to follow suit.
My bet is that the pressure will work.
Congressman Ed Markey (Dem—Mass.) has sent letters to Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Kraft and General Mills urging them to adopt a similar position and told them he will convene hearings on the issue. Markey chairs the telecommunications panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
With Kellogg already having given in after several years of activists battling the food industry over the wide-spread use of licensed cartoon characters such as SpongeBob to sell junk food to kids, the others will start to fall like dominos.
The Democratically led Congress, which would have to do a lot wrong not to retain its power in the 2008 elections, is looking for a few good slam-dunk issues. This is tailor made. There is a lot that is complicated about immigration reform and even setting higher standards for higher fuel economy. And they can’t seem to get Alberto Gonzalez out of the Justice Department. But curbing ads for junk food aimed at kids under 12? That’s easy for Democrats and Republicans.
The food companies and the Association for National Advertisers have long argued against such advertising curbs on the basis of free speech. Technically, that argument holds water. But it’s a leaky bucket. Look around any public school today, and you can see the effects of junk food on kids. It’s an issue that’s easier to see than even global warming.
By the way…no one is suggesting that these companies can’t sell junk food. No one is even suggesting that they can’t continue to put high fructose corn syrup in food like it was water.
But there is a swell of public sentiment that extends to the halls of this Congress that there is clear and definable goodness in limiting how aggressively we try and persuade sticky-fingered kids (sticky from Coke and fries)—who increasingly have to be cajoled to get off their butts, put their gameboys and iPods down and run around with a ball—to swallow all this junk.
The political speeches practically write themselves. Congress has limited ability to force local school districts to increase phys-ed classes or kick the junk food machines out of schools. But they will be able to point to this in 2008 and say they made a difference. That’s why the hearings are necessary. Like Kellogg, the food companies will try and beat Congress to the punch. It’s the age-old practice of volunteering for one punishment instead of risking a harsher one being put on you later. We’ll have the hearings so Congress can take some credit for pressuring the companies to change.
Of course, at the end of the day, the food company executives can take solace in the fact that it’s actually the right thing to do.