by Marion Nestle
Oct 20 2009

FDA to clean up front-of-package mess

The FDA has a new “Dear Industry” letter announcing that it is going to set some rules for those “better-for-you” stickers on the front of junk food packages.  Why?   “FDA’s intent is to provide standardized, science-based criteria on which FOP [front of package] nutrition labeling must be based.”

What this is about, of course, is all those self-endorsement labels food companies like PepsiCo (Smart Spot),  Kraft (Sensible Solution), and many companies collectively (Smart Choices) have been putting on their products.

The companies set up their own nutrition criteria and then applied those criteria to their own products. Surprise!  A great many of their products qualified for the “better-for-you” labels.

I’m guessing Smart Choices was the final straw for the FDA. The idea that the Smart Choices check mark could go onto Froot Loops was so astonishing, and the subject of so much ridicule, that the FDA had to act.  If nutrition criteria are developed independently, most junk foods would not qualify.

The FDA also says it will be testing how well consumers understand different kinds of package labels.  It gives a bunch of examples.  Want to know how the FDA is thinking about this?  Check out its handy backgrounder, which if nothing else is an excellent introduction to the entire issue of front-of-package labels.

Have a preference about what to use?  Write the FDA at this address:

Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852. All comments should be identified with the title of the guidance document: Guidance for Industry: Letter Regarding Point of Purchase Food Labeling.

Addendum, October 22: Here are two additional documents to add to the collection.  First, a letter to representative Rosa DeLauro responding to her complaint about the Smart Choices program.  Second, is a a summary of the talking points used by Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in her press conference on the new FDA initiatives.   My conclusion:  the FDA is back on the job!

It’s about time the FDA got back on the job. This is in reaction to the self-endorsements food companies have been making on package labels. The way this works is that companies set up their own nutrition criteria and then apply those criteria to their own products. Guess what. Lots of their products qualify for better-for-you labels. Examples: PepsiCo (Smart Spot) and Kraft (Sensible Solution), and now lots of companies working together (Smart Choices). I think Smart Choices was the final straw for the FDA. The idea that its check could go onto Froot Loops made it clear that the bar had to be set higher. Yes, they are suggesting something voluntary, but if the nutrition criteria are honest enough, junk foods won’t qualify.

Comments

Whatever happened to the Guiding Stars program in NY State? I know that most products in the store received no stars, but whether it was a failed marketing attempt or not, it may be something to consider from an independent labeling standpoint.

The Guiding Stars program is still in use, at least in Hannaford stores. They could be more prominent, but they are there.

I sat at a presentation yesterday at the Annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Denver. Hundreds of dietitians were being persuaded that the best science went into Smart Choices, and that the participating companies have consumers’ nutrition as top priority.

Sad.

http://www.fooducate.com/blog/2009/10/20/nutrition-rating-systems-do-consumers-need-them/

  • BenJ
  • October 20, 2009
  • 8:16 pm

FDA using “science based criteria” ? Greeaaat. Color me skeptical.

The best food-rating system would simply measure foods based on how much processing went into their creation.

It’s sad that we live in a food culture where the most “nutritious” products are those that have the nutrients added back in…and then priced at a premium

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  • Anthro
  • October 21, 2009
  • 9:44 am

The FDA seems to have awakened from a long sleep at last! I only hope they can put a stop to the kind of thing that commenter Hemi Weingarten describes above. Lobbying and advertising has become so confused with fact and science; someone has to step up and act in the interest of public health.

[...] I stop or should I go?Reports are flowing in that, in response to Big Food’s attempt to make Froot Loops a “Smart Choice,” [...]

[...] Smart Choice program it seems was the last straw according to Marion Nestle who writes a blog called Food Politics! In a letter to the food industry, the FDA is openly [...]

[...] Marion Nestle, on her blog, thinks the “Smart Choices” campaign, which designated Fruit Loops, Skippy’s [...]

[...] Food Politics: FDA to Clean Up Front-of-Package Mess Oh, thank goodness. Froot Loops should not now or ever be considered a health food. [...]

[...] Food Politics: FDA to Clean Up Front-of-Package Mess Oh, thank goodness. Froot Loops should not now or ever be considered a health food. [...]

[...] Food Politics: FDA to Clean Up Front-of-Package Mess Oh, thank goodness. Froot Loops should not now or ever be considered a health food. [...]

[...] Food Politics: FDA to Clean Up Front-of-Package Mess Oh, thank goodness. Froot Loops should not now or ever be considered a health food. [...]

[...] great to see the FDA stepping up to help consumers make truly informed decisions. According to Food Politics, they’re going to be “testing how well consumers understand different kinds of package [...]

[...] Food Politics: FDA to Clean Up Front-of-Package Mess Oh, thank goodness. Froot Loops should not now or ever be considered a health food. [...]

[...] As Alison Rose Levy points out in her Huffington Post opinion piece “Michelle Obama Steps Up As Health Champion” (thanks to the reader who referred me), the First Lady initiative focuses on a systemic approach to tackling childhood obesity. While the campaign does recognize that parents play an important role in their children’s food choices, it avoids the tired “blame the mother” and “personal responsibility” refrains so often associated with the issue of childhood obesity. It also focuses on education as key for parents and children to be able to make these healthy choices. Healthy eating may seem like it should be self explanatory, but as many authors have detailed (Dr. David Kessler, Michael Pollan, and Marion Nestle to name a few) the loss of cultural food traditions coupled with a food industry intent to sell and an ever changing FDA food pyramid have made many Americans unsure of what they should be eating. The “Smart Choices” labeling campaign is a good example of why. Nestle has written at length about the issue on her blog Food Politics. [...]

[...] Food Politics: FDA to Clean Up Front-of-Package Mess Oh, thank goodness. Froot Loops should not now or ever be considered a health food. [...]

[...] Food Politics: FDA to Clean Up Front-of-Package Mess Oh, thank goodness. Froot Loops should not now or ever be considered a health food. [...]

[...] Food Politics: FDA to Clean Up Front-of-Package Mess Oh, thank goodness. Froot Loops should not now or ever be considered a health food. [...]

[...] Food Politics: FDA to Clean Up Front-of-Package Mess Oh, thank goodness. Froot Loops should not now or ever be considered a health food. [...]

[...] are flowing in that, in response to Big Food’s attempt to make Froot Loops a “Smart Choice,” [...]

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