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Food makers suspend promotion of Smart Choices labeling

The program that includes nine major firms has been criticized for promoting foods such as Froot Loops and Cracker Jack as nutritional. The FDA says such labeling systems ay be misleading consumers.

October 24, 2009|Associated Press

PORTLAND, ORE. — A food industry group is voluntarily halting promotion of its nutrition labeling program after federal regulators said such systems may be misleading consumers, officials with the group said Friday.

Industry leaders launched the "Smart Choices" program in August to identify foods that meet certain nutritional standards and then highlight them for consumers with a green label on package fronts.

But the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that there were so many labeling programs with different criteria that they may mislead consumers about the health benefits of certain foods.

The agency told manufacturers it would crack down on inaccurate labeling, although it did not name specific products or give a timeline for enforcement.

Food makers, grocers, health organizations and others have created an array of labeling programs to draw the interest of consumers looking for healthful foods.

But Smart Choices -- which includes nine major companies, including Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Inc. and General Mills Inc. -- has been harshly criticized for giving its green seal to processed foods high in sugar, such as Froot Loops cereal and Cracker Jack snack food.

Critics say Smart Choice's nutrition standards are far too lenient.

They see the program as an attempt by food companies to bill processed foods as nutritious.

Officials with Smart Choices in Washington, D.C., said Friday that the group would "postpone" active operations and not encourage wider use of the logo while the FDA investigates labeling issues.

Manufacturers that currently use the logo can continue to do so, a program official said.

Smart Choices stood behind its program, saying that the nutritional criteria were based on federal dietary guidelines and that its efforts were a step in the right direction. Board member Richard Kahn said the group supported the FDA's effort.

"The impetus for the Smart Choices program was that there were and are too many systems," he said. "We applaud the concept of having one system nationwide."

He added that the group informed the FDA about Smart Choices during all stages of its development.

The FDA said it was working to define the criteria manufacturers must meet to make certain nutrition claims on product fronts.

The agency plans to work with manufacturers, nutritionists and others to design a standardized system to help consumers select healthy foods.

"Helping consumers make better, healthier choices for themselves is a critical part of the FDA's public health mission," the agency said in a statement Friday.

"Consumers want and have a right to clear, accessible nutrition information that they can trust to help guide their food choices," it said.

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