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Presidential Candidate Calls For Probe Of Marketers

Taking aim at food marketers who are already under siege, Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman today called for the Federal Trade Commission to probe the advertising of junk food to children.

'New threat'

"Parents today are being forced to contend with a new threat -- big fast food companies targeting junk food at children," said a statement distributed by Sen. Lieberman's handlers as the candidate stumped New Hampshire. "And that's literally feeding an epidemic of obesity. It's time to stand up to the companies marketing to children products that can be harmful to their health."

Sen. Lieberman's campaign comments come as the issue of obesity and food marketing practices has increasingly become the focus of high-profile news coverage, emotional debate, scientific study and lawsuits.

Tactical move

The tactical move by the candidate was apparently timed to coincide with the promotion of an upcoming Peter Jenning's ABC special report on food advertising, entitled How to Get Fat Without Really Trying. A barrage of full-color postcards hyping the Dec. 8 show began arriving in newsrooms across the country this morning.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America is already complaining about the show, saying that ABC interviewed an employee six months ago who no longer works there, and that subsequent steps it has taken are thus unlikely to be reflected in the show. Officials were not immediately available for comment on the candidate's allegations, but in the past they have denied marketing high-fat foods to youngsters.

'Obesity crisis'

"Foods that feed the obesity crisis are being peddled to our children as never before," the senator's statement said. "American children see an average of 10,000 food advertisements a year. And for the industry, that advertising pays off."

The candidate's attack on the food industry also comes four weeks after the Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a scathing report, demanding a federal ban on high-fat food advertising aimed at children.

Food marketers and their public relations specialists have been scrambling to defend their products or alter their sales practices in a manner that addresses rising public concern. For instance, in the wake of recent meeting with school officials, Coca-Cola Co. announced it would offer schools more control over the beverages stocked in school vending machines.

FTC probes KFC

The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, is considering new steps that might better control prepared food portion size and labeling. The FTC is probing KFC's recent advertising claims that consumers "should not feel guilty about eating fried chicken."

Besides a formal FTC probe of marketing practices, Sen. Lieberman asked the regulatory agency to develop a disclosure requirement for high fats, high sugars and low nutritional value in foods aimed at children and a ban on sales of junk food in school vending machines.

Posted on aef.com: December 8, 2003


Ira Teinowitz, AdAge.com. December 4, 2003

Copyright © 2003 Crain Communications, Inc.. All rights reserved.