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Junk Food Report Due in Congress

John Eggerton

Broadcasting and Cable


A government industry task force on food marketing to children is likely to tell Congress that the nation's largest food companies have started to self-regulate with new programs, in a report that is expected Sept. 19th, according to people familiar with the matter.

The task force report, initially due in July, was pushed back to September in part to let some major food marketers weigh in with their individual plans on trimming the marketing fat, which many have pledged to do.

Those have included a dozen food companies, among them Kelloggs, Coke, Kraft, General Mills, and most recently, Burger King, as well as media outlets Discovery Kids, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. The actions they've already announced are expected to be a big part of the report: Set nutritional guidelines for the foods they will market to kids under 12 in shows targeted to children. Some have also agreed to limit or end host selling of snack or fatty foods by familiar TV characters, and encourage exercise and healthy diet both through programs in the community and story lines in shows.

Children's activists on the task force aren't likely to keep silent. “They're not likely to roll over and say the industry has done everything it could,” said a source famliar with the drafts of the report that have been circulating among interested parties.

In addition to Brownback, the task force includes FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, and Commissioners Michael Copps and Deborah Taylor Tate.

But the heavy lifting was done by food marketers, and media companies, and those activist groups trying to work together to battle the childhood obesity crisis and, in the case of industry representatives, avoid legislation or regulations restricting or banishing billions of dollars in TV advertising.

They are looking to avoid a crackdown like the one in Britain, where the government banned snack food ads in and around kids TV shows.

House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey, author of the Children's Television Act that limited ads in children's shows, has been using his bully pulpit as chairman to push food marketers and media companies to cut the fat, saying if they didn't, Washington would have to step in.

The FCC requires TV stations to air at least three hours of educational and informational programming per week, and Markey has told Martin he thinks it is within the FCC's authority to rule that junk food ads in such shows would disqualify them for meeting that requirement. “If a show is telling a kid to eat an apple and exercise, and then the ads promote junk food, it undermines the intent of the law,” he told B&C recently.

A concerned Martin said he was “excited about the task force's opportunity to formulate a plan of action,” but said last week that “if something isn't able to come out of that process, then I would take a look at what the commission could do directly under its current authority.”











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