Food Manufacturers to Consumers – These Products Better for You

Just in time for the American Dietetic Associations annual Expo, a coalition of scientists and food manufacturers are announcing the Smart Choices Program aimed to help consumers make better food choices at the supermarket. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The nation’s dietitians, food makers and retailers want you to know how many calories are in that frozen pizza you devoured last night — and they don’t want you to have to go looking for it.

Amid widespread concern about obesity rates, eating habits and exercise patterns, they say they’ll help people make better eating choices by designating thousands of products as part of the new Smart Choices Program and adding nutritional information to the front of packages.

The labels, featuring calories per serving and number of servings, will likely be on products from food and beverage companies like Kraft Foods Inc., General Mills Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. starting next year, organizers say.

The goal of the program, to be unveiled Monday at the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, is to get people to make smarter food choices and thus improve public health.

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What you need to know:

A quick trip to the supermarket does not allow people much time to examine food labels in depth. And even if you do have a few minutes to kill, today’s nutrition labels are way too complicated for most shoppers.

Simplifying nutrition information for consumers is to be commended. Having the calorie and serving information prominently appear on the food package is great. But that green check mark is a bit worrying. Here’s why.

In a perfect world, the benchmark criteria used to state what’s better for us should be defined by the FDA and USDA, and not by Coca Cola and Kraft. This is because the federal regulator has only consumer’s welfare to consider, whereas food manufacturers have shareholders to please and profits to grow.

Granted, the Smart Choices coalition is very wide and includes many respectable academic figures, an improvement on single company initiatives such as PepsiCo’s Smartspot. Still, some people may find it difficult to accept nutrition recommendations from corporations whose ultimate interest is to sell more products.

It will be interesting to see how the American consumer reacts to Smart Choices and other labeling initiatives in the coming years. And more importantly, to gauge their effects on improving our dietary choices.

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