PhotoDreamWorks Animation is renting out the lovable images of Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, and Melman the Giraffe to peddle nutritionally poor food choices to impressionable young children, the Center for Science in the Public Interest complains.

In a letter to DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, the nonprofit nutrition watchdog group urged the studio to set nutrition standards for the foods for which it licenses its characters, much in the way Katzenberg’s former employer, Disney, did recently.

Disney said last month that it will stop advertising junk-food products on its TV programs, radio shows and websites, and promote healthier snack items to its young viewing audience. 

"Parents are faced with an enormous amount of advertising that's intended to change their children's dietary preferences," said CSPI director of nutrition policy Margo Wootan. "When a young child sees the Madagascar penguins on a package of junky crackers, they feel a powerful emotional connection—which is why companies do it in the first place. Entertainment companies like DreamWorks have a responsibility to wield that power in a way that doesn’t undermine kids’ health."

PhotoCSPI's letter pointed to the Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted characters appearing on packages of Lance Sandwich Crackers and Nekot Cookies. The products exceed recommendations for the amounts of saturated fat or sodium appropriate in snacks marketed to children, according to draft guidelines from the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, a federal taskforce composed of representatives from the FTC, CDC, FDA, and USDA.

Madagascar 3 characters also have tie-ins with McDonald’s, General Mills, and other companies.

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