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USDA Only Govt Agency Yet to Sign Ban On Marketing Fake Food to Kids

Photo from the Pop-Tarts website. It's rife with images like this, and games for kids, teens and moms.

Get ready.  This one’s a whopper.  Yes, I’m looking at you cheeseburger and malted milk balls.

The Huffington Post reported this morning that new guidelines for marketing food to children have been proposed by an interagency working group including the FTC, FDA, CDC and USDA.  The new marketing protocol would disallow foods that are, in a nutshell, not real food, to be pitched to kids.  Awesome.  So what’s the problem?  Everyone has signed on except the USDA, which is most likely being lobbied by the food industry.

These healthy food standards were agreed upon at an interagency meeting held in December 2009 and were supposed to have been put into effect by February or March, though it’s unknown how long a time-frame the food industry would have been given to comply with the new regulations.

The interagency guidelines as to what constitutes real food and therefore would be unquestionably allowed to be marketed to kids are simple: 100% fruit, 100% vegetables, 100% non- and low-fat milk.  But the description of foods that fall into a sort of pseudo-acceptable grey area are quite convoluted.  Here are some descriptions of items – not specific items, just an ingredient list of sorts, that based on a passable percentage-level of actual food content, would be allowed to be marketed to minors.  Sound confusing?  It is.  

Option A:
Food must contain at least 50% by weight of one or more of the following: fruit; vegetable; whole grain; fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt; fish; extra lean meat or poultry; eggs; nuts and seeds; or beans.

Option B:
Food must contain one or more of the following per RACC:
0.5 cups fruit or fruit juice
0.6 cups vegetables or vegetable juice
0.75 oz. equivalent of 100% whole grain
0.75 cups milk or yogurt; 1 oz. natural cheese; 1.5 oz. processed cheese
1.4 oz. meat equivalent of fish or extra lean meat or poultry
0.3 cups cooked dry beans 
0.7 oz. nuts or seeds
1 egg or egg equivalent

So you’re telling me, as long as a processed food item contains one egg – or “egg equivalent” – or 1.5 ounces of processed cheese, it’s okay to market it to kids?  Well, go hog wild advertising industry! 

I’m sure all kinds of disgusting, bad-for-you, fake foods can meet those requirements.  And in the case of Pop-Tarts, for example – sold by the box but wrapped by two’s – does an individual pastry need to meet these requirements?  Or a serving of two?  Or if there’s the equivalent of one egg equivalent (2 tbsp cornstarch = 1 egg) distributed throughout the contents of the entire package, is that enough?  Because corn starch is just one of the many horrifying ingredients in an Ice Cream Sandwich Pop-Tart.  Let’s not forget – Pop-Tarts have traditionally been sold as A BREAKFAST ITEM.  To kids.

The good news is, “Last month, the Federal Trade Commission publicly admonished cereal maker Kellogg’s for the second in time in as many years for making unsupported health claims regarding children.”  The company had claimed that “Frosted Mini Wheats cereal was clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%.”  And that, as Paula reported, Rice Krispies “could boost children’s immunity.”  Kellogg’s is banned from “making claims about any health benefit of any food unless the claims are backed by scientific evidence and not misleading.”  Yet they’re still able to use advergames to market icing and sprinkle-covered ice-cream flavored Pop-Tarts to kids.  It makes me sick.

I’m not saying I’ve never eaten gross food – or even mildly unhealthy or packaged/processed food – because I have.  But I think all consumers deserve to truly understand what they’re eating and not be duped by false health claims.  I’m so tired of food companies using re-branding techniques to cover-up the same old junk they keep processing – literally – year after year.  I saw a commercial on Hulu the other day that suggested packaged foods manufactured by Nestle are helping families stay healthy.  Bunk.  Lean Cuisine and Stouffer’s Easy Express meals are not healthy.  EASY EXPRESS® Skillets Teriyaki Chicken contains 1130mg of sodium – 47% of your recommended daily intake – per serving – and there are 2 servings in a package.  So eat one package of teriyaki chicken and you’ve consumed all the sodium you should for the entire day in one meal. 

And Nesquick is healthy?  Please.  Nothing that tastes like chocolate is healthy.  You hear me Luna Bars?  Carnation Instant Breakfast?  These are just candy bars and milkshakes marketed to fat people (I know) who feel bad about themselves but better about bad foods.  Covert chocolate!  What will they think of next?  I don’t want to know.

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