The Federal Trade Commission is considering a staff proposal to abandon its six-year effort to require food manufacturers to disclose more information about their products' contents in their advertisements, including the number of calories, the amount of cholesterol and the precise nature of "natural" foods.
The proposal is seen by some in the commission as the beginning of a drive to end any major new regulatory efforts.
The recommendation to drop the food rule came from Timothy J. Muris, who was appointed head of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection by President Reagan's choice to head the commission, James C. Miller III.
Criticizing earlier staff work as inadequate and vague, Muris argued that the commission had insufficient factual evidence to prove that the food-advertising rule, tentatively approved by the commission two years ago, was merited.
"Only solid statistical evidence" comprised of up-to-date scientific surveys can demonstrate that there is a problem, he said.
Commissioners declined to comment publicly before the rule comes up for another vote.
Nonetheless, several officials said Muris' memorandum raised serious questions about whether the commission would be able to apply any rule to bar unfair or deceptive practices or advertising.
Although Muris was unavailable for comment, one of his assistants, Howard Beales, acknowledged that Muris' strict standards mean the commission will be moving away from issuing broad industry rules toward attacking unfair and deceptive practices through complaints and court challenges issued on a case-by-case basis.