Until a few days ago, the food industry was moving ahead with its program to label products such as Lucky Charms cereal and Ritz Bits Peanut Butter Chocolatey Blast crackers as nutritionally "Smart Choices." But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made threatening noises, and the industry has backed off for now. That indeed was a smart choice.
The idea held promise: Food company representatives joining with dietitians and academics to develop a clear set of criteria for foods that could be considered nutritious options. Consumers overwhelmed by nutrition information could tell at a glance which foods were better for them by the eye-catching green Smart Choices label on the front of the package. But too many compromises were made on processed foods laden with sugar and artificial ingredients, to the point where the label was at risk of being meaningless. Plenty of healthy foods were approved too, but consumers don't need a label to tell them that broccoli and brown rice are nutritious. In the end, the American Dietetic Assn. and Tufts University, which had members on the Smart Choices panel, asked that the names of their institutions be removed from its website. At least one member of the panel quit.