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New Food Labeling?

by ADMIN on JULY 1, 2011

The food industry likes telling us what to buy…

Remember the big debacle with “Smart Choices Program“? It was a food package labeling system that placed a green check mark on foods that were considered ‘healthy’ by standards developed by a group of food executives, academic, and health advocates.

The problem was that the program didn’t take into account the amount of sugar (added or total), and green check marks were starting to show up on foods like Froot Loops and Fudgsicles. Oops. These foods definitely shouldn’t be touted as the ‘best choice’.

So in the fall of 2009 the government suspended Smart Choices and began taking a closer look at front of pack labeling systems.

After taking several into account, the FDA started throwing around the idea of highlighting specific nutrients from the Nutrition Fact Panel on the front of the package. Though this isn’t the FDA’s final decision on what to use, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) jumped on this idea and pressured all their food and beverage manufacturer members to employ the Nutrition Keys ‘voluntarily’.

Recently, the name was changed from Nutrition Keys to Facts Up Front.

The one below represents the basic four nutrient icon. It includes calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.

Companies can also choose to employ the icon with ‘nutrients to encourage’. These include at least two of the follow: potassium, fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, or iron. These are the nutrients that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has declared ‘short fall’ nutrients – meaning the majority of Americans don’t get enough of them.

You’ll start to see this Nutrition Key on many food packages around the grocery store.

My thoughts on this:

  • This isn’t what the government said they should do, the food companies simply chose an idea and ran with it. The fact that some of the manufacturers didn’t necessarily want to use it, but were ‘convinced’ to use it, speaks to some sort of underlying agenda of the GMA. What could it be?

  • Food packaging is already cluttered with health claims and symbols. Will people really notice these keys and use them if they already barely understand, or even look at, the Nutrition Facts Panel? It’s just another way to show the same information.

  • Positive nutrients are only optional. I think this is completely backwards. In my opinion the positive nutrients should take precedence. We should we encouraging people to choose foods that are nutrient dense rather than foods that are ‘less bad’. Of course all packaged foods will have the bad nutrients – but they may not have any positive nutrients, either. This should be highlighted so people realize they’re choosing nutrient-poor foods!

For example: diet coke will look really good on this system. Zero calories, zero saturated fat, minimal sodium. But the drink also has NO positive nutrition either. So if the Nutrition Keys mandated showing positive nutrients, people would look at and compare foods for their benefits in addition to their detriments.

What do you think?


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