Friday, October 23, 2009

Smart Choices suspends operations

In an effort to better coordinate with the Food and Drug Administration, the Smart Choices front-of-pack labeling program today announced that it would suspend operations for the present time.

The labeling program had been criticized for giving a stamp of approval to marginal products, such as a somewhat reformulated version of Froot Loops. This blog had previously covered both this criticism and the response from the program's supporters, including leading nutrition experts at the Friedman School and elsewhere.

In today's announcement, Mike Hughes, chair of the Smart Choices Program and vice president for science and public policy at the Keystone Center, stood by the actual nutrition criteria used in the program. "Our nutrition criteria are based on sound, consensus science," said Hughes.

We suggested in the previous post, "the program could have considered stricter criteria in some areas, such as sweetened cereals. More importantly, it could have achieved a different emphasis even with the program's current criteria. It could have more strongly highlighted fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while giving a lower profile to products that have been slightly reformulated and artificially enriched to just barely meet the nutrient criteria."

In either case, the FDA may be in a better position than the manufacturer-led Smart Choices Program to referee this question. In today's announcement, Hughes said, "[W]ith the FDA's announcement this week that they will be addressing both on front-of-package and on-shelf systems, and that uniform criteria may follow, it is more appropriate to postpone active operations and channel our information and learnings to the agency to support their initiative."


Ashley Colpaart said...

You beat me to the punch! A group of Tufts student's have organized a front of pack recommendation committee to try our hand at some real life policy application. Dean Kennedy announced that she would sponsor two students to attend future testimony hearings to present our consensus principles. I am curious to hear from critics as to how they would approach front of pack labeling. What is the goal of such a labeling scheme? Should there be an algorithm? What nutrients should be considered (+) (-) ? How do we move consumers into the way of healthy whole foods based choices and prevent industry reformulation of "sawdust with added vitamins and minerals." Should this be a federally run program, or just guidelines for industry to develop their own labels? Hard questions, but a good time to collaborate.

Paul Hughes said...

We can learn a lot from social media on the display of rankings. Consider DIGG and the thin banner at the top of a suggested page. Plenty of room for info.
How does the film industry arrive at their rankings? How about college football? Any ranking system for that matter?

Aliza said...

Ashley, I think the word "pack" says it all. Pretty much anything in a "pack" is less healthy than food not in a "pack," with a few exceptions.

Aliza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashley Colpaart said...

In further pack news, The Swedes are putting CO2 on their labels. I heard an interesting approach of shoppers having a scanner/computer on their carts. When they scan their food they can choose information that may be important to them by ways of health/nutrition/social impact etc. Interesting at least.