In particular, the recently introduced Smart Choices front of pack (FOP) labeling program has come in for criticism in recent weeks for allocating its green check mark to sugary cereals and there have been ongoing complaints about the sheer number of different labeling programs in use. Now the FDA has said that it wants to carry out an extensive examination of all the different on-pack and on-shelf labeling systems to ensure that they provide consumers with useful, meaningful nutritional information.
In its letter to industry the FDA said: “If voluntary action by the food industry does not result in a common, credible approach to FOP and shelf labeling, we will consider using our regulatory tools toward that end.”
Moreover, the agency said that it is developing a proposed regulation to define the criteria by which on-pack nutrition symbols can be used.
“FDA's intent is to provide standardized, science-based criteria on which FOP nutrition labeling must be based,” the letter said.
In a conference call with journalists, Margaret Hamburg said that the FDA wants to work with industry, but that over time it “will take enforcement action for egregious examples.”
She said: “Some nutritionists have questioned whether this information is more marketing oriented than nutrition oriented. From some of the labels that we have seen, we think this is a valid concern.”
Hamburg did not pinpoint specific products, but mentioned claims of “zero trans fats” on the front of packaging for products that have high levels of saturated fat, and said: “There are products that have got the Smart Choices check mark that are almost 50 percent sugar.”
Responding to the FDA’s letter, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association Pamela Bailey said in a statement that the organization is looking forward to working with the FDA “to determine what nutrition information is most useful in providing consumers with the tools they need to help them build a healthful diet.”
She added: “Manufacturers have already introduced or reformulated over 10,000 products to reduce calories, sugar, sodium, fat and trans fat or to enhance their nutritional profile, such as with the addition of whole grains or minerals.”
The FDA’s letter to industry can be accessed here.