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Food Makers, Federal Authorities In Tug-Of-War

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The food industry and the US regulators have always been at loggerheads over a lot of issues in the past. The recent bone of contention between the two sides is the Goldfish crackers. The whole controversy surrounding these crackers rests on two pivotal matters – nutrition and marketing.

As per the latest nutritional guidelines by the US federal government, food items like crackers are high on saturated fat and salt and made of white flour, which renders them unhealthy for the children. Therefore the government does not want such items to be advertised to children. However, the food industry’s counter-argument is that the crackers, made in the shape of fish by Campbell Soup’s Pepperidge Farm division, are already on a list of healthy foods, which are allowed to be marketed to children.


Tightening the noose


With the government and public health advocates tightening the noose around the food industry’s neck in their fight against childhood obesity, the manufacturers are beginning to show less resilience to matters of child health. The government wants the food industry to fight obesity among children by making as well as marketing products that are healthier and according to the federal authorities, crackers are definitely not that.


What Industry Offers

On the other hand, the industry has also shown signs of warming up to the idea presented by the federal government. A group of manufacturers and restaurant owners announced recently that they were ready to review the voluntary standards of marketing of cereals, snacks, and other foods, which are targeted toward children. This was part of an industry program called the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative and companies like Campbell, Burger King, McDonald’s, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Kellogg are participating in it. The group also offered to reduce sugars, fats, and other ingredients in such food items, which amounted to unhealthy extent. Another initiative, announced before the one described above, seeks to improve the number of unhealthy choices given on children’s menus at restaurants.


Tokenism or Not?


However, cynics believe that such gestures amount to tokenism because the food manufacturers would not be making much change to their products and have set easy targets for themselves. The only reason the manufacturers seem keen to announce such initiatives on their own is because they want to off-set any similar action from the government’s side, which is surely going to be harsher.


On its part, the Congress has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to work with other agencies and come up with a set of objective criteria, which could be set up as a voluntary standard for the whole industry. The initial draft of the FTC’s proposal, released in April this year, was stricter than the industry initiative. In it, the Commission proposed that the companies will have to follow a single standard, with rigid limitations on less healthy ingredients. The Commission has also proposed that the industry can advertise only those products, which are high on nutritious ingredients. At the same time, the federal agency also indicated, without specifying any particular product, that a large number of food items, which were being advertised to children, were unhealthy as per the new proposal.


The industry, quite naturally, is unhappy with the initial proposal, as one of its representatives said that currently, a third of the food items, being advertised to children, were unable to meet the new, proposed guidelines. However, there is a silver lining too. Those new products will have to undergo only slight change in order to come under the new bar set by the Commission.


However, the product over which this hullabaloo arose in the first place is safe in its own place. Yes!!! The good news for the manufacturers and the children is that the Goldfish crackers would not have to change at all. This is because these crackers apparently conform to the proposed guidelines. We wonder what the federal government has to say to that!


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Food Makers, Federal Authorities In Tug-Of-War