(National-NBC) Jan. 19, 2006 - An advocacy group wants companies to stop marketing junk food to children. They're targeting two titans in a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
They're going after the companies behind Tony the Tiger and Spongebob Squarepants: Kellogg foods and Viacom, owner of Nickelodeon TV.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest says junk food is making American kids unhealthy, and is threatening to sue for a billion dollars if they won't tone down ads aimed at kids.
Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest voices the ultimatum the companies face, "Companies can do it voluntarily, or they can be sued. It's their choice."
The suit would be filed in Massachusetts on behalf of a mother of three, claiming deceptive and unfair marketing as being aimed at unsuspecting youngsters. Mother Sherri Carlson says, "Are Pop Tarts and Fruit Loops really part of a nutritious breakfast as they claim in their ads? I think not."
Kellogg said in a statement that it's "proud of its products and the contributions they make to a healthy diet."
Viacom's Nickelodeon said it has "been an acknowledged leader and positive force in educating and encouraging kids to live healthier lifestyles."
Though Nickelodeon's Spongebob Squarepants is prominently displayed on sugary foods, the company points out he's also pushing carrots and spinach, too.
Advocacy groups have been fighting similar battles for years, but they say this fight's different. CPSI lawyer Stephen Gardner says, "This time if they don't listen, we'll sue them. That's the difference."
CPSI says the companies have 30 days to answer back, and then they're going to court.
So why file the lawsuit in Massachusetts? That state has a tough consumer protection law, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest says it believes it can make the case that the companies are knowingly, deceptively and unfairly marketing to children.