- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

Soup is not good food, the “food police” said yesterday.

The latest report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) criticizes the methods that Campbell, McDonald’s, Quaker and other food companies use to market their products to children, although some of the manufacturers countered that the study relies on outdated information.

“Food companies are very good at getting inside children’s heads and getting them to pester their parents to purchase their products,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition for CSPI, a nonprofit group that studies food safety and quality and often is dismissed by critics as the “food police.”

Parents should think about marketing “as a societal issue and not feel like they are alone in this struggle,” she said.

The report criticizes Campbell Soup Co.’s “labels-for-education” program, which encourages families to collect labels from Campbell products that schools can redeem for equipment. A family would have to purchase $2,500 worth of soup for the school to qualify for a $59 stapler, according to the report.

“This is marketing disguised as corporate benevolence,” Ms. Wootan said.

Soup is not high in fat, but it does have a lot of salt, she said.

Campbell’s spokesman John Faulkner said soup is good food, noting that it has lots of vegetables and is low in calories.

“We’re not marketing junk food,” he said.

The 30-year-old labels-for-education program is not aimed at just children, and it works best when many families submit labels to schools, Mr. Faulkner said.

“It enables participating groups to leverage the fact that our products are in the pantries of 98 percent of homes in America,” he said.

Also criticized in the study: a Barbie doll dressed as a McDonald’s clerk, a Play-Doh Lunchables kit that allows children to assemble clay versions of Oscar Mayer’s “notoriously fatty and salty lunch-box items” and a Pepsi Web site profile of Jason Giambi that quotes the New York Yankees star as saying, “I usually have several Pepsis each day. It really lifts me up.”

Some of the manufacturers said the report relies on outdated information.

The study criticizes a Cap’n Crunch Smashed Berries cereal advertisement that states, “Kids smashed ‘em in the factory so you can fit more in your mouth.” However, a spokesman for Quaker Oats Co., which makes the cereal, said the ad is two years old and the product is no longer available.

“We are more sensitive to the messages that we use. You’re not going to see that message in our advertising today,” spokesman Mark Dollins said.

Mattel Inc. spokeswoman Lisa Marie Bongiovanni said the company no longer makes the McDonald’s Barbie doll. The doll was about “the aspirational play patterns of little girls,” she said, noting that Mattel also makes Barbie kitchen play sets that allow children to pretend Barbie cooks broccoli and other vegetables.

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