If you remember last month, I wrote about the Smart Choices program that puts a green checkmark on packaged foods that are supposed to be good nutritional choices. These checkmarks have ended up on products like Froot Loops and Lunchables.
Here’s one of the thoughts I had when read that the Smart Choices program wants to make it simple for consumers.
“Simple, front-of-pack nutrition guidance” – I’ve said it before. A box has six sides. To really figure out what’s in a food and whether it’s something you want to feed yourself and your family, you need to look at all sides of the box. Don’t let someone else do your thinking for you.
FDA's research has found that with FOP labeling, people are less likely to check the Nutrition Facts label on the information panel of foods (usually, the back or side of the package). It is thus essential that both the criteria and symbols used in front-of-package and shelf-labeling systems be nutritionally sound, well-designed to help consumers make informed and healthy food choices, and not be false or misleading.
It’s not just the Smart Choices program that is being investigated by the FDA. The Guiding Stars program, the Nuval program, and the My Pyramid program have all shown up in an FOP backgrounder document that gives examples of FOP programs that are being looked into.
According to a piece in The New York Times, FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg is concerned about so many different programs creating confusion.
“It is clear that at the present time this vast array of different approaches is adding confusion rather than clarity,” Dr. Hamburg said. “We believe we can offer important benefits in terms of developing the science- and nutrition-based criteria for the use of dietary guidance claims.”
I have to wonder if any FOP labeling is even a good idea. According to the FDA’s own research, FOP labeling discourages people from looking at the back of the box. The front of the box may indicate that a product has whole grains, but it will most likely never indicate what chemicals those whole grains have been preserved with or what food dyes they have been colored with. Those are things that people should be making choices about, too, and need to turn to the back to learn about.
What do you think about FOP labeling? Do you pay attention to the front of the box or do you turn that box around? Do you think we’d be better of eliminating FOP labeling altogether or do you think that many people then would pay no attention at all to nutrition labeling?