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WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a bid to fend off mandatory regulation and potential litigation amid an epidemic of childhood obesity, 11 food companies yesterday said they would set voluntary controls on their marketing to children.
The move, undertaken by Cadbury Adams; Campbell Soup Co.; The Coca-Cola Co; General Mills, Inc.; The Hershey Co.; Kellogg Co.; Kraft Foods Inc.; Mars, Inc.; McDonald's USA, LLC; PepsiCo, Inc.; and Unilever, concurred with a public hearing of the Federal Trade Commission on the links between child marketing and obesity.
The voluntary measures will go into effect by the end of 2008, and will include an end to national advertising of certain products altogether, more ads for products that meet certain federal nutritional guidelines, and a cut in third-party licensed characters that appeal to children.
The companies' pledges, approved under the Council of Better Business Bureaus' (CBBB) Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, come after the FTC's pronouncement last year that effective industry self-regulation was necessary, and that it expected "real improvements" in the industry's response.
Collectively these pledges will improve the mix of foods advertised to children under 12 and reduce the number of food advertisements run by participating companies," Elaine D. Kolish, director of the CBBB's initiative, said.
Under the baseline requirements of the CBBB initiative, announced in November 2006, participants agreed to devote at least half of their advertising primarily directed to children under 12 to promoting healthier dietary choices or healthy lifestyles. The CBBB will monitor and publicly report on the companies' compliance with their pledges.
The CPG companies' new gesture was cautiously welcomed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The organization's nutrition policy director, Margo Wootan, called it "a positive and historic development [that] will shield the youngest of kids from the least healthful of these companies' products on television, kids' magazines, and the Internet."
The consumer advocacy group also said Kraft "deserves a large share of credit" as the first company to announce a comprehensive policy on food marketing aimed at children in 2005.