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GREEN: Curtains for Cap’n Crunch

Food nannies to banish colorful cartoon characters from cereal boxes

- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2011

Say goodbye to Tony the Tiger and the Jolly Green Giant. Consumer mafia groups want cartoons, images and even celebrities that might appeal to children banned from food advertising - even if the ads are actually aimed at parents.

The advertising censors insist children need to be protected from the food industry because parents aren't up to the task. Thus they created the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG). Under the pretext of getting chubby cherubs into shape, sympathetic Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, and then-Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, slipped language into the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act mandating the creation of the IWG to develop recommendations for standards for industry marketing to children under age 17 - even though there is little credible evidence linking marketing trends and childhood obesity. The congressional charter lends the group legitimacy.

After missing a 2010 deadline to report back, the IWG released a preview of the "voluntary" nutrition principles that they want industry to adopt, and they were radical. In addition to trying to exile the Pillsbury Doughboy, it proposes nutritional requirements that would prohibit the advertising of 88 of the 100 most commonly consumed foods, including bagels, 2 percent milk, peanut butter, canned tuna, carrot juice, ready-to-eat cereals (except for unflavored shredded wheat), leaf salad with low-fat dressing, hot cereal, canned corn, rice, wheat bread, pretzels and scrambled eggs, according to the Sensible Food Policy Coalition.

"This is not smart government," Michelle Bernard, CEO and Founder of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy told The Washington Times. "Government shouldn't be in the position to say, 'we're going to protect you from yourself and from your children asking you to say "no" to them.' " Ms. Bernard's organization published a study recently examining the new guidelines. The report concluded that the market is delivering what consumers want, not tricking consumers into liking products they otherwise would not choose.

Those supporting the regulations clearly believe parents aren't smart enough to recognize the food industry's marketing techniques. "The burden shouldn't be on parents" to make children eat healthfully, said Samantha Graff with Public Health Law & Policy, a group pushing for more regulations. "It should be on the food industry to make sure they have options and aren't being deceived." Jeffrey Chester of the liberal Center for Digital Democracy said that, "No parent today can address and comprehend all this advertising." What they really mean by "having options" is that people should only be allowed to buy what they and the government deem acceptable. After all, if it's not for sale, children can't eat it.

Those who want to live in a free society should be cheered by Wednesday's action on Capitol Hill. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Health and Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade heard testimony from representatives of the IWG that they would be "substantially modifying" the working group's recommendations and taking the food and beverage industry's current efforts into greater account, particularly the new uniform nutrition criteria standards rolled out by the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. As even the most extreme food activists have admitted, self-regulation in the food industry works, so government should butt out.

Anneke E. Green is Assistant Editorial Page Editor for The Washington Times. Follow her on Twitter: @AnnekeEGreen

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