At a hearing last week on Capitol Hill, Kraft Foods, Inc., and the Milk Industry Foundation offered several ways that the industry and Congress could work together to improve food and beverage marketing to children. They also commended Senate committee members for their interest in child nutrition and the important role that dairy products play.
The appropriations committee and its chairman, Tom Harkin (D-IA), held the hearing jointly with the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government and the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the financial services subcommittee, and Harkin are strong proponents of improvements in the area of child nutrition.
In his testimony, Marc Firestone, executive vice president of Kraft Foods, Inc., called for voluntary industry action, a common sense approach by companies, and a nationwide effort to use advertising that will help children learn to make healthy food choices.
"In 2005, we voluntarily adjusted our advertising practices globally, so that all TV, radio and print advertising viewed primarily by children ages 6 - 11 would feature only Kraft productions that meet specific nutrition criteria," Firestone said. "Many of our competitors and other companies have since adopted a similar approach to their advertising under the auspices of the Council of Better Business Bureaus."
Kraft was a founding member of the BBB's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising initiative, which is designed to shift the mix of advertising messaging directed at children to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles. Last week another IDFA member, The Dannon Company, became the 15th and most recent member company to join this initiative.
Also at the hearing, Senator Durbin suggested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's school lunch and breakfast programs should be a model to help children select healthy foods. Miriam Erickson Brown, MIF chair and president and CEO of Anderson Erickson Dairy Company, submitted written testimony on behalf of MIF that agreed with Senator Durbin's statement.
Representing fluid milk processors, Erickson Brown pointed out that sales of carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks and flavored waters in schools have grown over the last three decades, while the consumption of milk in schools has been in decline. Kids often choose these less nutritious beverages, she said, because they have marketing appeal and are easily accessible.
"The General Accounting Office recently reported that almost all schools sell competitive foods and beverages because they raise substantial revenue to support school foodservice operations and student activities," Erickson Brown wrote. "Thus, not only is there a marketing advantage to most non-milk beverage choices, but also a financial incentive for schools to promote these drinks."
She called on congressional leaders to take a hard look at the fierce marketing of competing beverages and to work together with the dairy industry and the public health community to improve the marketing of healthy products like milk to children.