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U.S. weighs food-label symbols

September 11, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Next month, General Mills Inc. and Kellogg Co. will begin emblazoning their breakfast cereals with symbols that summarize complex nutritional information -- part of the growing use of logos to steer harried grocery shoppers toward healthier choices.

The proliferation of such symbols is a worldwide phenomenon, with government regulators in Britain, Sweden and elsewhere establishing logo systems that concisely indicate how nutritious food products are. In the United States, however, corporations have been left to devise their own schemes. That's led to a patchwork of systems that some fear further confuses consumers already unsure about how to eat wisely.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration took a first step toward clearing matters up, inviting food companies, trade groups, watchdog organizations, medical experts and the agency's overseas counterparts to share how front-label symbols can improve public health.

The FDA stressed that the meeting was a preliminary step as it considered whether to establish a national symbol system. Any action is probably years away -- and even then, any system probably will be voluntary.

Absent federal action, food manufacturers and retailers have taken matters into their own hands. PepsiCo Inc. uses the "Smart Spot" symbol on Diet Pepsi, baked Lay's chips and other products.

One lawmaker said he would move forward with legislation compelling the FDA to establish a single set of nutrition symbols.

"The proliferation of different nutrition symbols on food packaging, well-intended as it may be, is likely to further confuse, rather than assist, American consumers," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said.

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