The Connecticut attorney general has launched an investigation into the Smart Choices food labeling program, claiming that it is potentially misleading.
The Smart Choices program was launched in August by the American Society for Nutrition and the non-profit public health organization The Keystone Center, with the collaboration of several major food companies. It was touted as an “at-a-glance assurance” that foods have met science-based nutrition criteria supported by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but the scheme has been criticized for allocating the program’s green check mark to foods like Kellogg’s Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes, and General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs.
Now, attorney general Richard Blumenthal has said that he has sent letters to the organizations and companies behind the Smart Choices program, including the American Society for Nutrition, Kellogg’s and General Mills. He said he wants to find out how much influence food companies had in setting the criteria by which products can qualify, the level of payment required to participate, and what processes and costs are needed to run the program.
He said: "These so-called Smart Choices seem nutritionally suspect – and the label potentially misleading. The Smart Choices label adorns sugar-laden cereals appealing to children, but not many healthier breakfast choices.”
False and misleading?
Blumenthal added: "We have serious concerns about the research and reasoning behind a program that promotes fat-saturated mayonnaise and sugar-studded cereals as nutritional smart choices…At a time when healthcare efforts rightly focus on prevention of obesity and malnutrition, false and misleading labels may derail, destroy and delay such laudable national goals. Meaningful nutritional information is welcome, but not faux food facts."
Opportunity for understanding
Kellogg’s provided FoodNavigator-USA.com with a statement from the Smart Choices program, confirming that it had received Blumenthal’s letter and saying that it is cooperating with his information request, calling it an opportunity to provide consumers with better understanding of the program.
The statement added: “The Smart Choices program was developed during an open and lengthy collaborative process that included some of the most experienced and accomplished professionals in nutrition science…It is designed to include foods in every aisle of the supermarket, from fresh to packaged foods.
“We believe that by developing consistent criteria for better choices among hundreds of products across the supermarket, we are taking an important step in the right direction to help consumers.”
However, the program has also been regarded with some uncertainty by the Food and Drug Administration, which issued a letter as early as August 19 warning the program’s leaders that it would closely monitor its choices for inclusion.
Commenting on Blumenthal’s move, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, Dr Kelly Brownell, said: "It is very important that consumers have truthful and non-deceptive nutrition information if they are to make informed choices."