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Fast-food industry is quietly defeating Happy Meal bans

Working under the radar, restaurant lobbyists have persuaded state lawmakers in Florida and Arizona to ban local governments from outlawing giveaways of toys with high-calorie children's meals. A proposed ban in Nebraska died before its first hearing.

May 18, 2011|By Sharon Bernstein, Los Angeles Times

Sue Hensley, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Assn., said there's no orchestrated national campaign to fight the toy bans, although the organization is working "hand in glove" with its state affiliates as they try to make their case.

"Certainly, there are conversations about strategy," Hensley said. "It's something that we're following very, very closely."

Now, with a new Happy Meal ban on the table in New York City, the industry is taking the fight there. Both McDonald's and the New York State Restaurant Assn. oppose the legislation, which would ban toys with high-calorie, high-sodium meals. McDonald's has run some commercials in the area promoting Happy Meals as joyful, but the company has not stepped into the fray directly.

Nutritional activist Deborah Lapidus, who heads a campaign against food marketing to children for the group Corporate Accountability, said the industry's decision to work largely behind the scenes is a strategic one, meant to head off possible toy bans before they can pop up and gain public support.

"The fast-food industry poses as a champion of parental choice," Lapidus said. "Then behind closed doors the industry denies parents and communities the choice to safeguard their children's health. That's why they're so concerned about hiding and masking these efforts."

sharon.bernstein@latimes.com

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