The Right to Never Hear About Junk Food, So You Won’t Be Tempted to Eat It
The Post-Dispatch‘s Savvy Consumer blog linked to this website, which would be amusing if some people weren’t so serious about it. It’s Consumers International, dedicated to protecting some vague “rights” that consumers supposedly have to safety, information, etc. World Consumer Rights Day took place on March 15. I totally forgot to have a party celebrating that, but maybe I’ll put it on my calendar for next year.
If I were starting a consumer rights organization, there are several issues I would want to focus on. For example, parents’ ability to choose their child’s school. Or patients’ ability to choose medical treatments without being subjected to state rationing of services. Or consumers’ ability to buy products from outside their city or region.
Needless to say, those are not the applications of consumer rights that Consumers International cares about. To find out what they do care about, I looked around their website and related blogs. Marketing junk food to children is a major concern. Take a look at this post about Lucky Charms. It describes a complicated legal dispute with General Mills over advertising, a taste of which (pun intended) can be seen in these two paragraphs:
The General Mills Canada Corporation created an actual advertising system to promote its sweet cereals, Lucky Charms, among children. The website for which the complaint was made was advertised on the product packaging (which is in itself a form of advertising, but is subject to an exemption according to the regulations for implementation of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA)).
The many appeals of the website particularly speak to the child’s appetites, in order to capture his interest. A wealth of games and animations featuring Lucky the Leprechaun were available on the site. With their fantastic and magical nature, these “webisodes” were clearly designed and aimed at an audience younger than 13, something that is defended in Section 248 of the CPA. As well, advertising messages automatically appeared on the screen: “Lucky Charms Chocolate cereals are now available in Canada”.
First, they point out that product packaging is a form of advertising. Well, yes it is, but what’s wrong with it? If a child sees an ad on a package, that’s because his or her parents already bought the product. Kids don’t wander around grocery stores reading the backs of random cereals.
The package advertised a website for kids. To me, that sounds like a good thing. Many parents are worried about their kids seeing adult content on the web, or coming across information they’re not ready for. If a cereal package directs them to a site that’s just fun and games for kids their age, it’s doing parents a service. Advertising children’s cereals and toys is the impetus for developing kid-friendly websites. Few organizations would develop elaborate Internet content for kids with no hope of remuneration.
And because kids usually aren’t able to do a lot of shopping independently of their parents, advertising to them can’t have much effect, anyway. It’s not like kids can get a job, drive to the store, and buy whatever cereal they want. I think the “advertising” is more about responding to parents‘ wants than trying to convince kids to buy something. Parents like to see their kids engaged in the world around them. They’d prefer to buy a cereal with cute mascots on the front of the box, puzzles on the back of the box, and online games.
Of course, my arguments wouldn’t reassure Consumers International. They’re unhappy with anybody encountering advertising for junk food, not just children. They do have an alternative in mind for you to eat: street food. Here’s a description of how street food is served, from the “What is street food?” page:
It is served with the minimum amount of fuss in individual portions dished into take-away containers.
These containers come in a variety of materials such as disposable plastic, paper and Styrofoam plates, bowls, cups and utensils.
Is that environmentally sustainable consumption?