The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the body long responsible for providing ratings on theatrical films in the UK, recently launched a voluntary pilot program designed to protect children from watching inappropriate content whereby music videos would receive film-style age ratings, quite possibly signaling first step towards regulating music videos. Under the program, certain UK record companies, including Sony, Universal and Warner will submit music videos that are intended for a "12 and above" audience to the BBFC, and subsequently it would issue a rating for the video per its Classification Guidelines: 12, 15 or 18. For additional details on the BBFC’s new program, read our firm’s latest client alert.
In an October blog post, we reported on the New York labor law amendments enacted specifically to protect runway and print models under the age of 18, providing them with the same protections that other young performers had received. Furthering the requirements of the amended laws, the New York Department of Labor recently released updated forms that employers must use when engaging child performers, including models. For additional details on the new mandate and forms, read the latest post on our firm’s Employment Law Watch blog.
Mark S. Goldstein was recently interviewed for an article by Law360 regarding new Labor Law protections for child models. As we previously mentioned, on October 21, 2013, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law amendments to New York’s labor laws to specifically cover child models. The legislation protects runway and print models who are under the age of 18 in accordance with the same state labor laws that already protect other young entertainers. Mark told Law360 that, among other things, he hopes that the Department of Labor works with fashion industry insiders to maximize effective implementation and enforcement of the new law. View the full Law360 article (subscription required) now.
On October 21, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law amendments to New York’s labor laws to specifically cover child models. The legislation aims to protect runway and print models who are under the age of 18 in accordance with the same state labor laws that already protect other young entertainers, including actors, dancers, musicians, singers, and voice-over artists. Specifically, the law, which goes into effect 30 days from its October 21 signing, contains mandated education, oversight, and financial protections, and requires employers to obtain work-related certificates of eligibility and maintain proper records of all work performed by child models. Among other provisions, this legislation requires: (i) chaperones to monitor the workplaces of models under 16 years of age; (ii) employers to provide nurses with pediatric experience and, under certain circumstances, teachers, as well as a dedicated space for instruction; (iii) employers to deposit at least 15 percent of the child’s gross income into a financial trust created by the model’s parents or guardians; and (iv) employers to provide notice to the NYS Labor Commissioner at least two business days prior to employing an underage model. Employers that violate the provisions of this legislation will be subject to monetary fines, generally ranging between $1,000 – 3,000 per violation.
CARU’s West Coast Conference 2013 is scheduled for April 10 at the Beverly Hills Hilton, and once again promises to be a not-to-be-missed event. Confirmed speakers include Mamie Kresses, Federal Trade Commission; Katie Ratte, The Walt Disney Company; Jeannette Neumann, Mattel; Cynthia Nishimoto, Bandai; Stevan Levy, Kabillion; and Ryan Shadrick Wilson, The Partnership for a Healthier America. CARU believes if there is one conference to attend this year, this is the one, particularly in view of the impending COPPA modifications. CARU will devote a panel to the COPPA changes and will have detailed, lively discussions about the impact to the industry at-large. Indeed, rather than just a panel discussion, CARU hopes it will be more of a training session to prepare advertisers and website operators for the changes. Additionally, panelists will examine domestic and global challenges to self-regulation in the areas of social media, mobile marketing, sweepstakes, and food and beverage advertising.
For more information, please visit the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council's website.
The Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) determined recently that Skechers, the maker of Red Phrans-Phavorite Sneakers, and Marc Ecko Enterprises, which markets the product, should modify or discontinue advertising that suggests the shoes shine red when used. CARU picked up the ad during its monitoring practices, as it aired during after-school hours on Nickelodeon. Vanessa Hudgens is shown dancing in the commercial, and as she does so, her shoelaces light up in bright red. Her back-up dancers also wear shoes that appear to light up. There is even a close-up of the laces illumiunated in red. Oh, and did I mention the shoes are called "Reds"?
Red-faced with frustration, Skechers and Marc Ecko Enterprises have decided that CARU is wrong to assume that kids think the laces really light up. So they are going to appeal to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB). Appeals from CARU cases are rare, so this should be interesting. It should be noted that CARU has no power to pull an advertisement, and it cannot refer the matter to the FTC while an appeal is pending under its procedures. Thus, Skechers and Marc Ecko might be planning to run the spot through Easter and then pull it before the NARB hearing. If so, that's an interesting strategic move.
Why This Matters
You can't misrepresent how a product works, but the threshold is very low when it comes to kids. Shoes that appear to light up or that make you jump really high are two ways in which CARU has limited marketers' ability to exaggerate in the area of kids' advertising. Also, when it comes to the self-regulatory process, it's good to know the rules.
Nigeria’s Consumer Protection Council (“CPC”) is calling for a global ban on advertising for food that is high in fat, sugar, and salt, at least with regard to children’s advertising. According to an article in Africa News, CPC is calling on the World Health Organization to support a strong international code that would ban marketing low-nutrition food to children.
CPC is seizing the opportunity of this year's World Consumer Rights Day (March 15, 2009) to strongly urge the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health to support a ban on radio or TV advertisements promoting “unhealthy” food between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., and no marketing of unhealthy foods using news media (such as websites, social networking sites and text messaging). In addition, the proposed code would ban promotion of unhealthy foods in schools; free gifts, toys or collectable items that appeal to children to promote unhealthy foods; and the use of celebrities, cartoon characters or competitions to market unhealthy food.
This proposal is also supported by Consumers International (“CI”), the self-proclaimed global campaigning voice for consumers.
Why this Matters: This sort of international movement has the potential to turn a spotlight on what food marketers are doing outside of the United States. Clearly, the U.S. food and beverage marketers have done more than their fair share of retooling and shifting the messages toward “better for you” food, and there is strong self-regulatory oversight provided by the CBBB’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (“CFBAI”). This is not satisfying the public interest groups that seek to trample commercial free speech and the responsibility of parents here in the United States, and it clearly isn’t satisfying the rest of the world. The CFBAI should engage in more international outreach so that the reactionary forces that threaten to undermine truthful and useful advertising, not to mention the sponsorship dollars for media content, do not take us down a path of unwise and unnecessary posturing, as appears to be going on in Nigeria.
Sky One, a UK satellite channel that broadcasts "The Simpsons," has been told that the sponsorship of the programme by Domino's Pizza, a leading UK pizza delivery company, breaches sponsorship rules, despite the fact that no products that were high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) were shown in the credits.
Ofcom, the UK media watchdog, published rules in February 2007 concerning advertisements of HFSS foods to under-16s.
The National Heart Forum (NHF), an alliance of more than 60 UK organisations working to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and related conditions, contacted Ofcom regarding Domino's Pizza's sponsorship of "The Simpsons." The NHF complained that Domino's Pizza "appears to be avoiding the restriction on HFSS advertising or sponsorship by simply not showing the pizza product during the sponsor's credits around the programme."
In response to the complaint, Ofcom requested a recording of "The Simpsons" from Jan. 30, 2008. This consisted of four recordings, back-to-back, between 19:00 and 21:00, with each episode containing four sponsorship credits. The credits featured one or more of the following - at least one person involved in the pizza order/delivery process, the sponsor's pizza packaging, the pizza case preparation and the sprinkling of pizza topping ingredients. The closing image contained the Domino's Pizza logo and the words "Domino's Delivery Service," followed by the website details and order telephone number. Each credit ended with a voice-over stating: "'The Simpsons' on Sky One with Domino's - the pizza delivery experts."
Sky replied that "adults comprise around 72% of a typical Simpsons audience." Further, the broadcaster added that 47 percent of Domino's Pizza's pizza products are non-HFSS and that none of the credits showed an HFSS product. Sky also stated that "the specific service being advertised is the Domino's delivery service and, in particular, the pizza delivery service," and that the sponsorship credits targeted adults, not children. Sky referred to Ofcom's press release that stated: "…there is no prohibition on brand advertising by companies whose portfolios include HFSS food or drink products - goods which, unlike tobacco and alcohol, can legally be sold to children."
Ofcom considered three questions. First, whether "The Simpsons" was likely to appeal particularly to audiences under the age of 16. In the period examined by Ofcom, the actual audience that was under 16 was 81 percent higher than the average expected for a multi-channel audience. Therefore, Ofcom concluded that the programme attracts a significant child audience during its broadcast time.
Second, whether the sponsorship credits promote a brand or a product and/or service. Ofcom believed in this case that the sponsorship credits promoted more than just a brand name. In Ofcom's view, the audience watching these credits would reasonably believe the sponsorship directly related to the supply of the sponsor's pizza product as opposed to its other products.
Third, whether the credits promoted an HFSS or non-HFSS product. Sky's own evidence showed that 47 percent of Domino's Pizza range were non-HFSS. Therefore, more than half were HFSS. Ofcom agreed that Domino's Pizza delivers more than just HFSS pizza, but the sponsorship credits in this case did not refer to the delivery of any products other than pizza. Accordingly, in Ofcom's view, the sponsorship credits promoted HFSS products.
Ofcom concluded that this particular sponsorship amounted to product sponsorship that promoted HFSS foods in programmes of particular appeal to children under the age of 16. The sponsorship was therefore in breach of the following rules:
4.2.1(b) of the BCAP Rules on the Scheduling of Television Advertisements
- The following may not be advertised in or adjacent to children's programmes or programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age 16:
(vi) food or drink products that are assessed as high in fat, salt or sugar in accordance with the nutrient profiling scheme published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on 6 December 2005.
Rule 9.3 of the Broadcasting Code
- Sponsorship on radio and television must comply with both the advertising content and scheduling rules that apply to that medium.
Why this matters: Prior to the implementation of the Ofcom rules on HFSS foods, pressure groups had raised a concern that advertisers would try to get around the rules by advertising brands instead of the HFSS products themsleves. Although this ruling may not close the door on advertising brands related to HFSS products around programming that is attractive to children, it does make it clear that where the brand name is closely linked to a particular product, it may be difficult to avoid falling foul of the rules. This ruling also makes it clear that advertisers will not be able to avoid the rules by simply keeping the HFSS product out of the shot.
The Federal Trade Commission staff will host a forum March 12, 2009 to gather input for its upcoming education program on advertising literacy for “tweens,” or kids who are 8 to 12 years old. At the forum, experts on advertising and marketing to kids will discuss a range of issues, including:
- What kids experience in the commercial world
- What kids understand about their experience
- Which consumer education efforts will help kids to navigate better in the commercial world
The goal of the campaign is to educate kids on how to be better-informed consumers of information.
Why this matters: We’re not sure yet who is speaking at the event, but our hope is that we’ll hear from those who can actually shed some light on this important marketing segment. CARU has long lumped kids under 12 into one basket, with some very strange results. For instance, not so long ago, CARU was bringing actions against movie studios for advertising “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” during shows that were attractive to “tweens” on the grounds that they were meant for children 13 and over. Luckily, Wayne Keeley’s CARU has taken a turn toward reality and has involved the MPAA in making better determinations as to which movies are appropriate for kids advertising.
Thus, our hope is that this workshop will help demonstrate that older kids (in the 8-12 range) are very savvy both in terms of their emotional development and their maturity for purposes of distinguishing between advertising and editorial content. It would be a shame if the Commission puts up a series of paternalistic, anti-ad activists who think most kids should not be exposed to any commercial messages. We also hope that the workshop will focus on the key issue of “blurring” that impacts video game manufacturers, and anyone who uses advergames as a form of marketing to kids.
Children who are obese or who have high cholesterol also show early signs of heart disease, according to a new study. Results of the study were unveiled at a recent American Heart Association conference. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine, has not yet been published.
The study was small, involving 70 children ages 6 to 19, and experts said the results would need to be replicated to be considered conclusive. But the researchers' method of measuring artery wall thickness, using ultrasound technology, is considered to be a reliable indicator of heart disease risk.
"I think this is a red flag," said the study's lead author, Dr. Geetha Raghuveer, a cardiologist and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine. "These kids are more similar to middle-aged adults."
The study is considered by many to be part of a growing body of research that childhood obesity in the United States likely will result in increased incidents of heart disease as children age.
Read more about the study and surrounding issues at nytimes.com.
Between 500 and 600 U.S. school districts have instituted nutritional policies limiting foods deemed to be high in fat, salt and sugar. That's according to a research scientist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The widespread curbing of snacks in school has some kids pining for the old days.
"I know obesity is a big problem, and it's good the school cares," high school senior Sam Cardoza told The New York Times recently. "At the same time, you shouldn't stop a kid from buying a cookie."
California's nutrition standards limit snacks sold in schools during the day to those that contain no more than 35 percent sugar, and that derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat. Sodas will be banned from schools beginning next year. Regulations such as those being implemented in California have brought traditions such as school bake sales and birthday celebrations to a screeching halt.
"I don't think all celebrations need to be around food," said Ann Cooper, the director of nutrition services for the Berkley School District. "We need to get past the mentality of food used for punishment or praise."
The reduction in calories at school does not mean, as some feared, that kids would rush home and raid the fridge. According to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, children do not compensate for the loss of sugar and fat-laden foods at school by increasing their intake of such goodies at home.
"People really do eat what's in front of them," explained center Deputy Director Marlene B. Schwartz.
Read more about the issue at nytimes.com.
A Federal Communications Commission official is pushing a proposal to ban interactive ads targeting children. FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein's call for regulation came amid the latest in a series of public meetings to address childhood obesity and its alleged link to food advertising.
"With the growing convergence of TV and the Internet, we need to set the rules before interactive advertising becomes an established business model," Commissioner Adelstein stated, speaking at the Vanderbilt Forum on Pediatric Obesity in October. The FCC "tentatively" concluded in 2004 that interactive ads targeting children should be banned, he noted. "[W]e need to act quickly ... to implement sensible restrictions on interactive ads targeting children."
Commissioner Adelstein dished up some harsh criticism of the food marketing industry. "The facts show that a vast majority of the food marketed to children are high in calories, high in sugar or salt, and low in nutritional value," he stated. He pointed to the recent campaign for Frosted Flakes featuring Olympian Michael Phelps. "Trying to make Frosted Flakes this generation's ‘breakfast of champions' is symptomatic of this age of hyper-commercialism, which has contributed to childhood obesity."
Parents feel inundated by the "seemingly relentless march of material that is too commercial, unhealthful, violent, or sexual for their children," charged Commissioner Adelstein, himself a parent. In addition to banning interactive marketing efforts (such as TV ads that point kids to websites), Commissioner Adelstein suggested the FCC should clarify its guidelines concerning what constitutes "educational content" for purposes of children's television regulations, and allocate resources toward educating the public on health and media issues.
FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, who also spoke at the Vanderbilt conference, did not call for regulation but instead urged the private sector to continue to make self-regulatory strides. A member of the public-private Joint Task Force on Childhood Obesity, Commissioner Tate noted with approval efforts such as the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, under which advertisers voluntarily agree to limit their advertising to primarily healthier food and beverage products.
Read more about the issue at broadcastingcable.com.
In the face of federal disagreement as to whether the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) threatens the health of babies and young children, several state attorneys general have taken the matter into their own hands, and have asked baby product manufacturers to stop using the controversial chemical.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, joined by the AGs of New Jersey and Delaware, sent a letter in October to 11 companies that manufacture baby bottles and formula, asking them to cease using BPA in their bottles and formula container liners.
"I am alarmed by recent studies confirming that BPA leaches from these products into the foods they hold," Blumenthal stated in the letters, which were sent to baby bottle manufacturers Advent, Disney First Years, Gerber, Dr. Brown, Playtex and Evenflo, as well as formula makers Abbott, Mead Johnson, PBM Products, Nature's One and Wyeth.
"Credible, escalating laboratory evidence demonstrates that even low dose exposure to BPA causes serious damage to reproductive, neurological and immune systems during the critical stages of fetal and infant development," the letter stated. "The preventable release of a toxic chemical directly into the food we eat is unconscionable and intolerable."
The AG's action comes at a time when the federal government appears to be at odds over how serious a threat is presented by the presence of BPA, which is used to harden plastics, and is contained in liners of canned goods.
In September, the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health released a report that concluded there is "some concern" that exposure to BPA can adversely affect development in fetuses and children. But this summer, the Food and Drug Administration stated that its data did not support the need to tighten safety standards regarding BPA content in children's products.
Read a summary of the state AG's action at ct.gov.
View the FDA's draft report at fda.gov.
The melamine nightmare appears to have arrived in North American in time for Halloween. The Canadian government has issued a recall of Pirate's Gold Milk Chocolate Coins, distributed by Sherwood Brands and sold by Costco.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued no similar recall.
"This product is being recalled due to positive test results for melamine," stated the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The Gold Coins were sold nationally through Costco, and also may have been sold in bulk packages individually at other dollar and bulk stores, the CFIA warned.
Melamine is the chemical linked with children's deaths and illnesses following contamination of milk and milk products in China, as well as pet deaths and illnesses following contamination of pet food. Melamine is widely used for industrial purposes, but also can be used to spike food products to artificially inflate protein content.
In China, the melamine scare was ratcheted up even further by news that food inspectors found eggs contaminated with high levels of melamine. An estimated 50,000 children in China have been sickened from melamine contamination, and four reportedly have died.
Read about the Canadian recall at inspection.gc.ca.
Read about the egg contamination in China at nytimes.com.
Children under the age of 4 should not be given over-the-counter (OTC) cold remedies, according to new labeling being prepared by leading cold medicine manufacturers.
The manufacturers of medicines sold under brands such as Dimetapp, Pediacare, Robitussin, Triaminic and Little Colds have agreed to voluntarily change their labels to state "do not use" for children under 4. In addition, manufacturers of products containing antihistamines will add language to their labels warning parents to refrain from using these medications to induce drowsiness in young children.
The changes came following consultation with the Food and Drug Administration, which earlier this year recommended that children younger than 2 years old should not be given cold medications.
Children's cough and cold medications are safe and effective when used as directed, stressed the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), the trade group that announced the voluntary labeling changes. "Research shows that dosing errors and accidental ingestions-not the safety of the ingredients themselves when properly dosed-are the leading causes of rare adverse events in young children," the CHPA stated.
Indeed, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which concluded that thousands of young children are hospitalized annually after ingesting cough and cold medicine, also determined that the vast majority of children hospitalized had taken medication while unsupervised.
Read about the labeling changes at chpa-info.org.
View news coverage concerning the change at apnews.excite.com.
OFCOM, the UK media regulator, published rules regarding advertising food and drink products to children.
A consumer watchdog in the UK, Which?, has said that the rules, which aim to curb advertising foods assessed as high in fat, salt and sugar ("HFSS") to children, are not working.
Which? conducted a two-week analysis and found adverts for products such as Coca-Cola, which reportedly contains 13 teaspoons of sugar per 500 ml, and Kellogg's Coco Pops, which is more than one-third sugar, were broadcast during programmes popular with children and were not caught by recent restrictions.
The OFCOM rules state that adverts for HFSS foods are not allowed to be shown in or around programmes of particular appeal to under-16s. If the proportion of those under 16 watching a programme is 20 percent higher than the general viewing population, then the programme is considered to be of particular appeal to under-16s.
Which? revealed through its report that none of the programmes with the five highest child audiences is covered by the restrictions imposed by OFCOM in January.
Therefore, while shows such as "The Simpsons" and "SpongeBob Square Pants" are caught by the rules, other shows such as "Beat The Star" and "Animals Do The Funniest Things" are not, despite being watched by thousands more children.
According to the two-week analysis conducted by Which?, "Animals Do The Funniest Things," a home video show where viewers send in amusing clips of their animals, was viewed by 370,600 children under 16, and included adverts for Cadbury's Creme Egg Twisted, Maryland Chocolate Chip Cookies, Nachos and Kraft's Dairylea Dunkers.
By contrast, "Shaggy and Scooby Doo get a clue" and "SpongeBob Square Pants", which are both caught by OFCOM's restrictions, did not have adverts for HFSS foods.
Which? food campaigner Clare Corbett said, "The ad restrictions may look good on paper but the reality is that the programmes most popular with children are slipping through the net. If these rules are going to be effective, then they have to apply to the programmes that children watch in the greatest numbers."
Chief executive of the Advertising Association, Baroness Peta Buscombe, called the Which? report "sensationalist, unconstructive and missing the point." She added, "Their list includes programmes clearly not aimed at children and films screened after 10 p.m. There clearly has to be an element of parental responsibility on which programmes they allow their children to view."
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said, "Although children still see some of these advertisements, the current OFCOM regulations mean that the viewing of these adverts by children is reduced by an estimated 50%, an impressive amount. We appreciate that there are calls for further restrictions on UK TV advertising but these should be considered once we have had a chance to assess the impact of current measures."
OFCOM is set to report on the success of its restrictions in December this year.
Concerns over Chinese exports again dominated the headlines following reports that four infants in China had died from formula made with milk contaminated with melamine. Some 53,000 children were sickened by contaminated milk products.
Melamine is the same chemical that earlier was found to have been mixed with pet foods linked with thousands of pet deaths in the United States, prompting massive pet food recalls. Melamine is used for industrial purposes such as leather tanning, coatings and laminates, wood adhesives, fabric coatings, ceiling tiles, and flame retardants.
Inspectors from the Chinese government found that more than 20 Chinese dairy farms and plants had diluted milk and added melamine so their products would appear to have higher protein levels. Eighteen people were arrested in connection with the scandal.
Following reports of the contamination, much of Asia, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam, banned the import of Chinese milk products. The scare spread from milk products to food products that contain milk powder and milk protein. The British supermarket chain Tesco reported that samples of White Rabbit Creamy Candies in New Zealand were found to have unacceptably high levels of melamine, and the chain removed the candies from its shelves worldwide.
While the EU does not import milk or other diary products from China, the EU barred imports of any products from China containing more than 15 percent milk powder.
In the United States, there have been no reports to date of contaminated milk products from China. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration focused its investigations on Asian food stores in areas with large Chinese communities, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York. "To date, investigators have visited more than 1,000 retail markets and have not found Chinese infant formula present on shelves in these markets," the FDA reported. The agency has broadened its search for other food items imported from China that may contain milk or milk proteins.
Read about the EU's ban of products containing Chinese milk powder at news.bbc.com.uk.
Read about the FDA's investigation into the melamine contamination at fda.gov.
Read more about the issue at iht.com.
France's broadcast authority has forbidden French channels from promoting television shows aimed at children under 3 years old. In addition, cable operators that air foreign channels with programming for babies are required to broadcast warnings stating: "Watching television can slow the development of children under 3, even when it involves channels aimed specifically at them."
The new rules, issued by the High Audiovisual Council, are aimed at the introduction of foreign tot-devoted programming such as BabyFirstTV and Baby TV, both of which can be viewed via cable in France.
"Television viewing hurts the development of children under 3 years old and poses a certain number of risks, encouraging passivity, slow language acquisition, over-excitedness, troubles with sleep and concentration, as well as dependence on screens," the Council stated.
BabyFirstTV, launched in the United States in 2006, has ratcheted up the debate over TV programming for the very young. The American Academy of Pediatrics says babies should not be exposed to television at all. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a complaint against BabyFirstTV with the Federal Trade Commission more than two years ago, accusing the channel of false and deceptive marketing. CCFC says it still is waiting for the FTC to rule on its complaint.
For its part, BabyFirstTV defended its product. "BabyFirstTV transforms traditional TV into an interactive and educational tool that relies on the television as a medium to deliver high-quality programming and an engaging experience for both baby and parents," the company said on its website.
Read about CCFC's response to the French marketing ban at commercialfreechildhood.org.
Read what others have to say about the marketing ban at ecochildsplay.com.
View BabyFirstTV's website at babyfirsttv.com.
When it comes to the risk posed by bisphenol-A (BPA), the chemical used to make hardened plastic containers such as baby bottles, liners for canned goods, and other plastic items, government officials can't seem to agree.
In September, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, released a report concluding that there is "some concern" that exposure to BPA can adversely affect development of the prostate gland and brain, and may cause behavioral effects in fetuses and children.
"There remains considerable uncertainty whether the changes seen in the animal studies are directly applicable to humans, and whether they would result in clear adverse health effects," stated NTP Associate Director John Bucher. "But we have concluded that the possibility that BPA may affect human development cannot be dismissed."
The scarce data leaves consumers in the lurch, conceded Michael Shelby, Director of the NTP's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction. "Unfortunately it is very difficult to offer advice on how the public should respond to this information," Dr. Shelby stated. "More research is clearly needed ...If parents are concerned, they can make the personal choice to reduce exposures of their infants and children to BPA."
But this summer, the Food and Drug Administration issued findings of its own, and appeared to land on the other side of the fence. The FDA issued a "Draft Assessment" of the use of BPA in food-related products in which it said its data did not support a need to upgrade safety standards: "FDA has concluded that an adequate margin of safety exists for BPA at current levels of exposure from food contact uses."
Nonetheless, the FDA pledged to consider the NTP's recent conclusions, and agreed with the call for further research. The diverging opinions at the federal level may invite state action; The New York Times noted that some states are considering bills to restrict the use of BPA in children's products.
View the FDA's draft report at fda.gov.
Just before the market melt-down captured the attention of Congress, a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee held the latest in what has become a series of hearings on the state of food marketing to children and its links to the obesity epidemic.
In testimony that reads much like students reporting on the progress of long-term research assignments, the various constituencies-regulators, industry representatives and advocates-weighed in. Presiding was Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who convened the public-private Joint Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity, and who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.
In testimony that mirrored a report submitted to the subcommittee in July, Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Jon Leibowitz cited with approval the food industry's self-regulatory efforts through an initiative established by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB). Under the CBBB initiative, participating companies develop individual pledges to limit their advertising to young children to healthier foods.
"Under the right circumstances, industry-generated solutions have the potential to address a public health problem of this magnitude quickly, creatively, and flexibly," Commissioner Leibowitz stated.
However, Patti Miller, Vice President of Children Now, disagreed as to the effectiveness of the CBBB initiative. "The initiative is insufficient for three main reasons," she stated. She cited the lack of uniform nutritional standards defining healthier foods and beverages, a "loop hole" that allows companies to advertise "better for you" foods that contain reduced amounts of sugar and fat, but are nonetheless not healthy, and the lack of participation by media companies.
Some media companies have taken steps to limit advertising to healthier foods, restrict licensing of their popular kids' characters to healthier foods, and provide healthy lifestyle messaging, testified Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin.
Nonetheless, Chairman Martin also pronounced himself "disappointed in those media companies [that have] made no solid commitments in these areas." He cited the UK's communications authority, Ofcom, which has banned advertising of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) foods and beverages to children on children's television channels.
"While it was-and always is-my hope that we will not have to resort to actual requirements, and I strongly encouraged the media companies to propose some voluntary limitations on advertising targeting our children, in the end no widespread voluntary commitment on behalf of the media industry was forthcoming," he said.
Access the hearing testimony at appropriations.senate.gov.
Read more about the issue at startribune.com.
Read previous KidAdLaw coverage about the FTC's food marketing report.