A colleague sent me this hilarious email message from one Tom Forsythe, vice president of corporate communications at General Mills. It seems that the mega cereal company found itself on the receiving end of a barrage of emails complaining about its opposition to the voluntary marketing to children guidelines proposed by the federal government. (I wrote about Big Food’s lobbying assault recently for Food Safety News.) So what else is the maker of Reese’s Puffs and Lucky Charms to do but put its PR machine into overdrive by explaining itself. Here is the company’s pathetic attempt in its entirety.
Thank you for your email regarding the Interagency Working Group proposal. Your email appears to have been electronically generated by or from the Center for Science in the Public Interest – and it was misaddressed. We received a number of emails identical to yours – and all were misaddressed. If you did not send an email yourself, we apologize for responding to you directly, but please allow me to respond nonetheless.
Your email states that we have been lobbying against the Interagency Working Group (IWG) proposal. That is correct. We have serious concerns about the IWG proposal.
Our most advertised product is cereal – and we stand behind it. Cereal is one of the healthiest breakfast choices you can make. Ready-to-eat cereal has fewer calories than almost any other common breakfast option. Cereal eaters consume less fat, less cholesterol and more fiber than non-cereal eaters. If it is a General Mills cereal, it will also be a good or excellent source of whole grains.
Childhood obesity is a serious issue – and General Mills wants to be part of the solution. But if the issue is obesity, cereal should perhaps be advertised more, not less. Because frequent cereal eaters tend to have healthier body weights – including people who choose sweetened cereals. It’s true of men. It’s true of women. It’s true of kids.
Data published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, based on the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), found that frequent cereal eaters tend to have healthier body weights overall, including kids who eat sweetened cereals. To be precise, kids who eat four to seven servings of cereal over a 14-day period are less likely to be overweight than kids who eat fewer than four servings of cereal. Kids who eat cereal more frequently, or more than seven times in 14 days, are even less likely to be overweight than kids who eat cereal less frequently.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association followed 2,000 American girls over a 10-year period. It found that girls who demonstrated a consistent cereal-eating pattern had healthier body weights and lower body mass index (BMI) than those who did not.
General Mills’ ready-to-eat cereals are America’s number one source of whole grain at breakfast, and fortified cereals provide more iron, folic acid, zinc, B vitamins and fiber than any other conventional breakfast choice. Eating cereal also has the added benefit of promoting milk consumption. Forty-one percent of the milk children consume is with cereal – and the figure is even higher for African American and Hispanic children.
Many things have been written about the proposed IWG guidelines in the media and by those who seek to ban marketing to children – with many misstatements made. You can be assured than food and beverage companies have carefully studied every letter, comma and period in the proposal. We know what it says, and what it does not.
For example, we know that 88 of the 100 most commonly consumed foods and beverages could not be marketed under the IWG guidelines. The list of “banned” items under the guidelines would include essentially all cereals (including Cheerios), salads, whole wheat bread, yogurt, canned vegetables, and a host of other items universally recognized as healthy.
Despite the characterizations used to advance them, the IWG guidelines would not be voluntary, in our view. The IWG guidelines are advanced by two of the agencies most responsible for regulating the food industry, as well as the agency most responsible for regulating advertising. Ignoring their “voluntary guidance” would not be an option for most companies. Regulation has already been threatened (even demanded) should companies choose not to comply – and litigation would inevitably follow.
The IWG guidelines also conflict with most existing government programs and definitions relative to food. For example, many products that meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s current definition of “healthy” could not be advertised under the IWG guidelines. Many products included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program fail the IWG standards, as do most products encouraged and subsidized under the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children Feeding Program (WIC). Even low-calorie, nutrient dense foods of the type specifically encouraged by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines broadly fail to meet the unique stringency of the proposed WIG restrictions. In fact, it is readily apparent that the new IWG guidelines have no parallel whatsoever – from a nutrition or science standpoint – with any other U.S. government food or nutrition program.
Curiously for guidelines purportedly developed to address obesity, the IWG guidelines also fail to include any reference to calories. Beside the inexplicable omission of a measure as important as calories, this also works to the disadvantage of cereal products, which are inherently low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods. Importantly, this is true of both unsweetened cereals and sweetened cereals, because both tend to have roughly equal numbers of calories per serving – most being about 120 calories per serving – whether sweetened or not.
Finally, your email suggests that companies review the IWG proposal and focus on providing substantive feedback via public comment. We agree. We have reviewed every detail of the IWG proposal – and we remain opposed, as our public comment explains.
Thank you again for your email. If your name was forwarded via this form email by mistake, or without your knowledge, please accept our apologies for responding directly.
Vice President, Corporate Communications General Mills