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Smart Choices labeling program suspended

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 26-Oct-2009
Last updated on 27-Oct-2009 at 17:59 GMT

The Smart Choices labeling program has been suspended just days after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it would examine whether front-of-pack nutrition claims are potentially misleading.

Smart Choices has said that it “will voluntarily postpone active operations and not encourage wider use of the logo at this time by either new or currently enrolled companies.”

The industry-funded Smart Choices labeling program has come in for increasing criticism since it was introduced in August, in particular for allocating its green check mark to cereals that many consider to be high in sugar, such as Froot Loops and Cocoa Puffs. However, consumers and government have been calling for a simple front-of-pack labeling scheme for years, and Smart Choices has said that it can provide just that – an at-a-glance system to show that a product has met “strict science-based nutrition criteria.”

But the FDA said in a letter to industry last week that it was “assessing the criteria established by food manufacturers for such symbols and comparing them to our regulatory criteria”, with a view to establishing a standardized approach to front-of-pack labeling – and that it would use its “regulatory tools” if such schemes were not used in a credible way.

Following the FDA’s announcement, chair of the Smart Choices program Mike Hughes said:Our nutrition criteria are based on sound, consensus science. But with 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."

Among the companies that have signed up to the program are several market giants, including Kellogg’s, General Mills, Kraft, Unilever, ConAgra, and PepsiCo’s Quaker Foods.

The Smart Choices program has said that it shares the FDA’s goal to produce a uniform labeling system in order to help consumers make better dietary choices.

We continue to believe the Smart Choices Program is an important step in the right direction," said Hughes.

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