Oh No! More Industry Sponsored Nutrition Labels

Earlier this week, the two largest food and beverage trade organizations announced a new industry initiative for Front-of-Package (FOP) nutrition labeling of groceries. The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) issued a joint press release:

America’s leading food and beverage manufacturers and retailers joined forces today in the fight against obesity and announced their commitment to develop a new front-of-package nutrition labeling system. The unprecedented consumer initiative will make it easier for busy consumers to make informed choices when they shop. read more…

The organizations are throwing $50 Million into this effort in order to “educate consumers”:

“The food and beverage industry is committed to empowering consumers by providing them with the products, tools and information they need to achieve and maintain a healthy diet…”

Here’s what David Mackay, the CEO of Kellogg’s had to say:

“This is a landmark step forward in the industry’s commitment to help address the obesity challenge. It represents the most significant change to food labels in the United States in nearly twenty years.”

Baloney. Just last year Kellogg’s was part of another industry sponsored attempt to fool consumers. The short lived Smart Choice Program gave thumbs up to products such as Froot Loops.

If the industry spent as much energy making their food healthy as they do on these labeling smoke and mirrors perhaps we’d all be better off. but then again, you can’t make a healthy pop-tart, no matter how hard you’ll try.

What you need to know:

This move is not about obesity prevention, or sudden goodwill by the food industry. This is what nutrition professor and fellow blogger Marion Nestle calls a preemptive strike:

There is only one explanation for this move: heading off the FDA’s Front-of-Package (FOP) labeling initiatives.

We agree. Just two weeks ago we reported on the courageous report by the Institute of Medicine which recommended only four parameters be considered for display on FOP labels: calories, saturated fat, trans-fat, and sodium. These are all negatives, and the usage of the FOP would thus be to warn people away from bad-for-health foods.

This is just something that manufacturers can’t have happen, simply because most of the foods would be negatively marked. If you don’t think so, check out the Guiding Stars system founded by Hannaford Supermarkets in the Northeast and now available in 1600 supermarkets. Less than 10% of their products qualify for a healthy “star” or more. Which means 90% of the products could potentially be labeled negatively. Only 25% of the items qualify for one or more stars, which means 3 out of 4 could potentially be labeled negatively. [thank you Guiding Stars for the corrections].

If that would happen, people may actually reduce their spending on processed crap. And that would hurt the industry’s bottom line.

What to do at the supermarket:

You know our mantra, never ever believe the marketing BS on food packages even if it looks like a presidential seal of approval. The information you seek is on the nutrition facts panel and the ingredient list. Read it before you eat it! And if you have any question, please let us know.

  • http://www.feedyourheaddiet.com Ken Leebow

    I have a rogues gallery of front of label packaging. My “favorite”: Raisinets … It states … 30% Less Fat and Natural Source of Fruit Antioxidants! Bottomline: It also comes packed with 380 calories and 13 teaspoons of sugar.

    It’s fun to laugh at the front of label claims, however, other than a good chuckle, the best bet is to ignore all claims.

    Ken Leebow

  • http://foodtrainers.blogspot.com Lauren Slayton

    Oh maybe we should combine this with our Foodtrainers’ “tweet it don’t eat it” #TIDEI and have people tweet us the most ridiculous Front of Package claims, like the ones Ken mentioned. If people start to see it as chuckle-worthy they will also hopefully start to ignore.

  • Daria

    One of the good things to come out of this though is that soda manufacturers are going to start putting total calories on the front of the can or bottle, and that includes the total amount for 20 ounces.

  • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

    @Lauren Slayton
    Maybe #FoodBS would be a better hashtag ;-)

  • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

    Coke already announced its plan to do so a while ago.

  • Daria

    @Editorial Staff
    Yes Coke did. But now five companies have committed, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper Snapple, Nestle Waters and Sunny Delight. Coke was also putting only the calories for an 8 ounce serving on the front label. Now a 20oz bottle will have the full calorie amount shown on both the front of the package and the nutrition facts label. This is going to start in 2011.

  • http://www.awakenedwellness.com Rachel Assuncao

    Food manufacturers should never be allowed to create their own FOP labelling system. However, are government systems that much better? Check out the useless system Health Canada (our equivalent of the FDA) announced this week at http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/camp/dv-vq/index-eng.php

    Essentially, what it boils down to is that if something has 5% or less of the daily recommended value of different food components, like vitamins, minerals, fat and salt. If it has 5% or less per serving, that’s ‘a little’ an if it has 15% or more, that’s ‘a lot’. If that’s the best a government FOP system can come up with, is it any better?

  • Jason

    Industry cannot be trusted. If they were honest, we wouldn’t be any of their processed food (too processed and too much added junk). The only food that’s worthy of good marks doesn’t need FOP labeling – things like whole fruits, vegetables, and grains.

  • http://www.lovehealthyliving.net Carrie

    “Read it before you eat it.” Agreed! Better yet, eat whole foods (i.e. no label whatsoever).

  • http://www.inhabithealth.com Lindsay

    I am curious why Fooducate seems to applaud the Institute of Medicine Report suggestion about only including info for cal, sat fat, trans-fat and sodium on FOP labels. What about sugar??? I think sugar is way more problematic in the diet of average Americans, esp children, than sat fat or sodium and most people are not educated enough about nutrition to make a direct link between calories and sugar content. In fact, I think the demonization of fat and the increase in sugar that went into foods as a result is a major reason for the increase in obesity over the last 20 years. Why in the world would they not suggest putting sugar content on FOP labels?

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      @Lindsay, regarding sugar: we asked the same question when we covered the IOM report a few weeks back. IOM’s reasoning for not including sugar was that calories are a good measure of the sugar content. We disagree and believe the added sugar in a product is an amazing indicator of its “crapiness”. But even with the sugar issue, IOM’s suggestions are bold and commendable because adding vitamin C to a candy will no longer qualify it for a healthy approval.

  • Christopher Wetzel

    Ken Leebow stated a great fact, raisins are healthy, depending on what your restrictions. The crux of the matter is that our population is under educated due to their own ignorance and sheer laziness. They will all die earlier than they should because they are stupid and are so easily swayed by advertisments. I will continue to pander to the stupid so my bottom line increases during this difficult economic crisis and I don’t risk loosing my job. If you want to be a millionare develope something that releases endorphins and is healthier than a Big Mac and has more taste than Subway “meat”.