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."