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New food labels you can read at a glance, courtesy of the food industry

January 25, 2011|By Mary Forgione, Tribune Health
(Grocery Manufacturers…)

Coming soon to a grocery store near you: a speed-read nutrition label on the front of food packages that provides large-type icons that list the amount of calories, fat, sodium and sugars.

New labels, called Nutrition Keys by the food industry that created them, were announced Monday by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Marketing Assn. The groups say they developed the labels in response to First Lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign that in part calls for an easier way for shoppers, especially parents, to make informed food choices.

Aside from the four main icons, the industry groups may include “nutrients to encourage” -- such as icons for the amount of potassium, fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium and iron. (Note, small packages will have a calorie count icon only.) The new labels don't replace the nutritional label Americans have come to rely on for product information; rather, they add to it. The labeling will be phased in on packages by the end of the year.

Not everyone thinks this is a great idea. One critic, author Marion Nestle, writes on her Food Politics blog: "Forget the consumer-friendly rhetoric. There is only one explanation for this move: heading off the FDA's Front-of-Package (FOP) labeling initiatives." Here's what the FDA currently requires companies to supply on food labels.

Whether or not this is a step in the right direction remains to be seen -- as does the FDA's proposal for front-package labeling.

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