Foodmakers said the voluntary guidelines could even prevent them from marketing foods such as yogurt and whole-wheat bread.
Wootan countered that the whole-wheat breads currently marketed to children would meet the proposed guidelines, as would most of the yogurt now aimed at children.
David Vladeck, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC, said he was surprised by the intensity of the reaction from industry and worried about “misinformation.” He posted a July 1 blog item that dissected 12 “myths” regarding the proposed guidelines.
“Congress directed the [agencies] to prepare these guidelines because much of the foods marketed directly to kids are not healthful,” Vladeck said in an interview. “If you look at rising rates of obesity, one in three kids is either overweight or obese. That percentage is growing. I don’t think anyone thinks the status quo is okay. We are trying to be useful in this debate. This is not stealth regulation in any way, shape or form.”
The industry coalition
Core members of the coalition — including General Mills, Kellogg, PepsiCo and Time Warner — spent $6.6 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year, disclosure records show. Overall, records show, the coalition’s main members have spent nearly $60 million on lobbying since the start of the Obama administration.
One of the main players is media giant Viacom. It owns the Nickelodeon television network, whose animated characters — including Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants — are featured prominently on food products marketed to children. Viacom’s corporate parent spent nearly $1 million a month on lobbying in the first three months of this year, mostly on media and technology issues.
The coalition declined to release its budget for the campaign, which is being managed by Anita Dunn of the firm SKDKnickerbocker. Dunn served as White House communications director under President Obama in 2009 and is married to Robert F. Bauer, the former White House counsel.
Her work on behalf of foodmakers is surprising to some because first lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity her signature issue. In a speech last year to food manufacturers and retailers, the first lady urged them to curb the marketing of unhealthy foods.
“Our kids didn’t learn about the latest sweets and snack foods on their own,” she told the industry. “They hear about these products from advertisements on TV, the Internet, video games, schools, many other places.”
Consumer groups say the food lobby is aiming to capitalize on Dunn’s connections, particularly among Democrats more sympathetic to nutritional guidelines. The Center for Science in the Public Interest said Dunn and her firm “should be ashamed.”
Dunn dismissed the criticism.
“Without resorting to personal attacks, everybody should be able to work together towards a common goal here,” she said. “At the end of the day, combating childhood obesity is not a question of what gets advertised but a matter of more exercise, healthier eating habits and working together.”