Smart Choices Program Update
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Smart Choices UPDATE October 23 2009

Under pressure from state and federal authorities who feared consumers would be misled, the food industry on Friday started backing away from a major labeling campaign meant to highlight the nutritional benefits of hundreds of products.

PepsiCo said it was cutting its ties with the program, called Smart Choices, which features a green checkmark on the front of products that meet its nutritional criteria.

Kellogg’s, which makes Froot Loops and other sugary cereals that received the program’s seal of approval, said that it would begin phasing out packaging bearing the program logo as its inventories ran out.

Officials with the program said that Smart Choices would suspend most of its operations while they waited for the Food and Drug Administration to devise regulations for package-front nutrition labeling. Those rules could differ from the program’s criteria.

“I regard it as a partial victory,” said Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general, who recently began an investigation into the program to see if the labeling campaign violated his state’s consumer protection law. He called on more companies to pull out of the program.

“Quite bluntly, without a commitment by the companies to stop using the logo, there is absolutely no benefit to consumers,” he said.

The actions were a remarkable turnabout for an initiative that was developed by many of the country’s largest food manufacturers. It had taken at least two years to develop.

The Smart Choices logo began appearing on food packages this summer but immediately met with criticism from some nutritionists who felt its criteria were too lax. They pointed to sugary cereals, like Froot Loops, and fat-heavy products like mayonnaise, which they said should not be considered among the healthiest choices in the supermarket. The first ingredient in Froot Loops is sugar.

The F.D.A. sent the program a letter in August voicing concern that the label could lead consumers to choose highly processed foods over healthier foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

And this week, Margaret A. Hamburg, the F.D.A. commissioner, said that the agency would move quickly to devise rules for package-front nutrition labeling, an area that until now has been only loosely regulated.  

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 Ms. Hamburg said that the front of the package should give shoppers quick access to key dietary information that is already provided in greater detail in the Nutrition Facts box on the back or side of packages.

The Smart Choices program sent a letter on Friday to Dr. Hamburg and Mr. Blumenthal saying it would stop recruiting companies to take part in the program and stop promoting the program to consumers.

Eileen T. Kennedy, a nutritionist who is president of the Smart Choices board, said that the program was not bowing to outside pressures.

“I’m actually pleased that F.D.A. has moved in this direction,” Dr. Kennedy said. “I think it’s one more step in decreasing any confusion that’s out there in the marketplace.”

David DeCecco, a spokesman for PepsiCo, said the company was pulling out of the program in anticipation of working with the new F.D.A. rules. He said that only a few products, like Life cereal and instant oatmeal, made by PepsiCo’s Quaker division, had carried the logo.

“We really just had our toe in the water,” Mr. DeCecco said.

Kellogg’s said it would maintain ties to the program and that Celeste A. Clark, the company’s senior vice president of global nutrition, would remain on the program’s board.

Kraft, another participant, said that it planned to stay involved in the program and had no plans to remove the logo from packaging.

Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, had worked with the Smart Choices program to help develop its criteria, but resigned last year out of concerns that the standards were too loose.

Mr. Jacobson said he believed that the companies involved in Smart Choices had hoped to head off federal regulation of package-front labeling by showing they could develop an acceptable system on their own.

“It clearly blew up in their faces,” Mr. Jacobson said. “And the ironic thing is, their device for pre-empting government involvement actually seems to have stimulated government involvement.”

Published: October 23, 2009 NYT

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Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products and information contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any diseases or medical problems. This is not intended to replace your doctor's recommendations. The information is provided for educational purposes only. Nutritional benefits may vary from one person to another.








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