Food Regulators Scale Back Guidelines for Ads Targeting Children

U.S. food regulators have scaled back proposed guidelines that would limit advertising to children for foods with added sugars, salt, and saturated fat, bowing to pressure from companies like Nestle and Kellogg (NYSE:K).

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The final guidelines from the group of officials spanning four government agencies — the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Protection Bureau, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — will recommend restricting food ads targeting children younger than twelve years old.

In April, the group proposed urging companies not to market “junk food” to anyone under the age of 18 but cutting out “child- or teen-oriented” advertisements, cartoon characters, models, or activities. The voluntary restrictions would have applied to foods with more than 13 grams of added sugars, 210 grams of sodium, or 1 gram of saturated fat.

Nestle, the world’s biggest food company, and Kellogg, the biggest U.S. breakfast-cereal maker, are among the companies that called the original plan overly broad and unworkable. Kellogg said the recommendations would have caused “severe financial harm” because the company may have had to remove Tony the Tiger from its Frosted Flakes boxes in order to comply, a character that has become synonymous with the brand.

The working group “has not provided any evidence that its proposed restrictions on marketing will impact youth obesity rates,” Nestle said in a letter to the FTC. According to David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, the group is easing their recommendations directly in response to concerns raised by the industry and by lawmakers. Vladeck says the revisions will “share much in common” with a less stringent set of guidelines offered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The council’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative announced in July that member companies — including Nestle, Kellogg, and Kraft Foods (NYSE:KFT) — would stop marketing some foods to children after 2013 unless their sugar, sodium, and fat contents are reduced. The council’s food criteria includes a 350-calorie limit for main dishes marketed to children younger than 12, and caps child-targeted cereals at 10 grams of added and naturally occurring sugar combined.

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Though the guidelines are completely voluntary, companies will likely feel compelled to follow them because “these four agencies are the agencies that regulate our business, that have the power to shut us down,” according to Jim Baughman, senior marketing counsel at Campbell Soup Co. (NYSE:CPB)