Sunday, October 25, 2009

Smart Choices Labeling System Divided, Fails?

The "Smart Choices" label, which was meant to be a guide for consumers to make healthier food choices when shopping the supermarket, may be lying on its deathbed, according to a recent article in the New York Times. A few of the major food industry supporters, including PepsiCo and Kellogg's have cut its ties with the program and will phase out production of products (like Froot Loops cereal) with the Smart Choices logo prominent on the box front. Although, Kraft indicates it has no intentions to remove the logo from its foods.

Many involved with the Smart Choices labeling standards have gotten heat from the public, advocacy groups, and academics all of which saw this as an industry front and a way to mislead consumers into believing that foods of minimal nutritional value are healthier than they actually are. Eileen Kennedy, Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and president of the Smart Choices board, was among those who received a heavy wave of backlash, including from many of her own students. Yet, she maintains "that the program was not bowing to outside pressures" according to the New York Times, even though Smart Choices will stop recruiting companies and stop marketing the label to consumers. (She was the one who made the infamous 'Fruit Loops is better than donuts' comment that I talked about in a past post on the topic.)

However, not all is lost. The FDA is considering regulating front of label packaging to reduce misleading marketing. Currently, it is commonplace for food companies to just add nutrients to food and promote that boldly on their packages, even if other aspects of the food are unhealthy (high sodium content, high amounts of sugar, lack of fiber, trans fat, highly processed). Phrases like "Whole Grain" (especially on highly processed, low-fiber cereals) and "Fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D" are common. I can imagine Crisco coming out with shortening claiming to be "full of antioxidants!" or even more likely, "sugar free!"

I hope the FDA regulations are well-guided, well-formulated, and well-executed. Is that too much to ask?

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