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IOM front-of-pack labels are step in right direction but need more work, says Guiding Stars advisor

By Elaine Watson , 25-Oct-2011
Last updated on 25-Oct-2011 at 17:19 GMT

The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) proposed front-of-pack (FOP) labeling scheme is a positive step forward, but "needs much more work”, according to supporters of one leading FOP scheme already up and running in the marketplace.

Guiding Stars – which has been adopted by Hannaford, Food Lion and several other retailers – also awards foods with zero, one, two or three stars, but allocates them using an algorithm based on nutrient density (that takes into account vitamins, minerals, fiber and whole grains as well as nutrients of concern).

What about nutrient density?

By contrast, the IOM scheme ranks foods solely on their levels of trans and saturated fats, sodium and added sugars, which could mislead shoppers unless an accompanying education program spells out exactly what the stars mean, said Lori Kaley, a member of the scientific advisory panel for Guiding Stars.

“There is always the issue with this approach that you’ll get a diet cola with three stars or olive oil with no stars, although the IOM is talking about category-specific models for certain foods such as fats and oils so that they are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines.

“But if you go too far down the category specific road, you can’t compare foods across as well as within food categories – which is what the IOM wants to do - so the system still needs a lot more work", added Kaley, who was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA following the publication of the IOM's report into FOP labeling last week.

‘It’s not about telling consumers what to do’

However, she welcomed the fact that the IOM had opted for a ranking scheme that actively tried to steer consumers towards healthier choices, even if the criteria needed tweaking: “We’ve got a Nutrition Facts panel, but people are not using it, so just repeating the information on this on the front of pack doesn’t work.

“Consumers need more guidance and symbols like stars cross over literacy and numeracy barriers. It is not about telling consumers what to do. Products are hardly jumping off the shelf into your cart; consumers still have complete choice.”

One FOP scheme to rule them all?

But what does the future hold for Guiding Stars and other FOP schemes already on the market given that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is being asked to develop a single, standardized scheme to replace all of the others?

For now, at least, claimed Kaley, such schemes would continue to grow and evolve because the wheels at the FDA turned so slowly. Longer-term, she said, “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which supports the industry-backed Facts up Front FOP labeling initiative, told FoodNavigator-USA the rollout would continue.

It added: “We are moving forward with Facts Up Front.”

What do you think? Click here to participate in FoodNavigator-USA’s poll on front-of-pack labeling schemes.

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