FDA To Scrutinize "Smart Choices" & Other Front-of-Label Nutrition Symbols

Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson


Simplified nutrition information on the fronts of food packages could be very helpful in enabling consumers to choose healthier packaged foods and have healthier diets. Unfortunately, though, a growing number of privately devised—and sometimes inconsistent—labeling systems may be confusing, not enlightening, some consumers. After all, foods like General Mills' Cocoa Puffs or Kellogg's Froot Loops belong more in our "food porn" category than a better-for-you category.

Consider Kraft's Strawberry Bagel-ful, which is a mostly white-flour bagel stuffed with cream cheese and strawberry purée that is sweetened with sugar and colored with red dye 40. It's exactly the kind of food we should be eating less of, but it gets the Smart Choices logo. The American Heart Association's well-intentioned labeling program is also flawed, considering that the heart-check logo is on Uncle Ben's instant white rice and a number of other relatively poor dietary choices.

In 2006, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to implement a national front-of-package labeling system, and more recently CSPI urged Congress to fund Institute of Medicine research to identify the optimal system. Fortunately, the FDA recognizes the potential value of labeling and the deception that is now occurring. Ideally, the end result of FDA's initiative, and the parallel Institute of Medicine study, will be one national, mandatory system that will truly help consumers choose healthier diets.

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