Sensible Food Policy Coalition
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
The Sensible Food Policy Coalition (SFPC) is a group of the nation’s biggest foodmakers, fast-food chains and media companies, including Viacom and Time Warner. According to the Washington Post, the group is working against the federal government's efforts to create voluntary nutritional guidelines for foods marketed to children. The guidelines are designed to encourage foodmakers to reduce salt, added sugars, and fats in foods and drinks targeted to children. If their products did not meet the standards, foodmakers following the guidelines would be asked to refrain from advertising them to children.
Government's Voluntary Guidelines
The standards proposed by the federal government would be voluntary and not regulations. There would be no requirements for companies to meet, and the government would have no way to enforce them. They were proposed out of concern that children, many of whom may lack the critical-thinking skills to understand advertising, are bombarded daily by television ads, websites, toy giveaways, and cartoon characters promoting junk food. The food and beverage industry spends about $2 billion a year marketing directly to children.
In 2009, the rise in childhood obesity rates led Congress to direct four agencies, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to propose nutritional standards that food and beverages should meet in order to be marketed to children.
According to the Washington Post, SFPC was formed to lobby in favor of businesses who believed they were already doing sufficient work to reduce unhealthy foods targeted towards children. The food industry touted its own regulations, which it formed in 2006, but critics said that those efforts at self-regulation lacked uniformity and that results were modest. Industry groups argued that the government’s guidelines would kill 75,000 jobs annually, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce highlighted a legal scholar’s assessment that the voluntary standards would impede commercial speech.
Core members of the coalition, including General Mills, Kellogg's, PepsiCo, and Time Warner, spent $6.6 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2011. Viacom’s corporate parent spent nearly $1 million a month on lobbying during that same year, mostly on media and technology issues. Overall, records show, the coalition’s main members had spent nearly $60 million on lobbying since the start of the Obama administration, as of July 2011. Viacom hired constitutional law scholar Kathleen M. Sullivan to argue that the regulations were a First Amendment violation. She said, “Government action undertaken with the purpose and predictable effect of curbing truthful speech is de facto regulation and triggers the same First Amendment concerns raised by overt regulation.”
Articles and Resources
- Lyndsey Layton and Dan Eggen, Industries lobby against voluntary nutrition guidelines for food marketed to kids, Washington Post, July 9, 2011.
- Mark Bittman, The Right to Sell Kids Junk, New York Times, March 27, 2012.
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