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National Restaurant Association - Agency's "voluntary" guidelines on marketing to kids cut broad swath

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Agency's "voluntary" guidelines on marketing to kids cut broad swath

The National Restaurant Association is concerned that new draft "voluntary" principles proposed by the government last month to guide how restaurants market their foods and beverages to children are so potentially wide-ranging and restrictive that they could make it very difficult for restaurants to promote their offerings to young people.

The Association will offer a June 2 webinar for members on the government proposal. 

The draft principles are the product of a four-agency working group that involved the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission. Congress directed the four agencies to conduct a study and develop standards for the marketing of marketing of food to children who are 17 years old or younger, as one way to help control rising obesity rates.

In their April 28 report the agencies agree voluntary industry compliance is better than government restrictions on how companies market their food and beverages to children and teens. However, the agencies said they want to encourage a "substantial expansion" of food companies' current self-regulatory programs. The working group recommended that the food industry make significant improvements in the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children and adolescents.

By the year 2016, all food products within the categories most heavily marketed directly to children (such as breakfast cereals, carbonated beverages, restaurant foods and snack foods) should meet two basic nutritional principles, the group recommends. Such foods should be formulated to: (A) make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet; and (B) minimize consumption of foods with significant amounts of nutrients that could have a negative impact on health or weight -- specifically, sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugars. The working group has proposed 10 years for companies to hit the proposed sodium targets. The working group's proposed definition of marketing to children is broadly defined to encompass virtually all kinds of promotional activities directed to youth. It incorporates 20 categories of advertising, marketing and promotional activities.

It appears that the voluntary guidelines would touch nearly every aspect of restaurant marketing that appeals to kids. And the principles would in some cases set impossibly tough voluntary standards for the foods and beverages restaurants can promote to children and teens.

The NRA is working on comments to file with the agencies by July 14. For a comprehensive look at the draft plan from the government and why restaurants are concerned, tune into an NRA members-only webinar Thursday, June 2, at 4 p.m. ET. Food-law expert Steve Steinborn, partner, Hogan Lovells, will present the. Sign up for the webinar here; you'll need your member number to register. 

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