Someday, I hope to be industrious and organized enough to slow cook large quantities of dried beans and freeze them in small batches. Since that hasn’t happened yet, I use a lot of canned beans. When I was at the store over the weekend stocking up, I noticed that a few of the cans of Goya beans I was buying had the MyPlate icon on the front of the can. This is the first time I’ve seen the icon on any packaged food.
I was surprised to see the graphic on the cans, but I’m not sure why. The old food pyramid was often found on packaged food, including sugary cereals. So I wondered, what are the rules for using the MyPlate icon on packaging?
I found the confusingly titled guidelines, Guidance on Use of USDA’s MyPlate and Statements About Amounts of Food Groups Contributed by Foods on Food Product Labels, on Choose My Plate’s website.
Here are some of the guidelines.
Use of MyPlate cannot suggest or imply USDA endorsement of the product.
Use of the icon cannot be misleading on product packaging or at retail sale.
MyPlate icon should not be used on food labels in conjunction with what and how much to eat.
Then there are these very specific rules:
MyPlate could be used on food packaging to point consumers to ChooseMyPlate.gov to get more information about what and how much to eat. In this case, the MyPlate icon on food packaging should be used with text, such as:
- Learn about healthy eating at ChooseMyPlate.gov.
- For information about food and health, go to ChooseMyPlate.gov.
I’m not so sure the use of the MyPlate icon on the Goya beans is in compliance with these guidelines and rules. My first thought when I saw the icons on the cans was that the product was being endorsed by Choose My Plate. At second glance, I realized that isn't mentioned on the label, but the icon's prominent placement on the front of the can gave me that impression. Can that be interpreted as an “implied” endorsement? I think it might.
The icon on the can does contain the Web address for Choose My Plate, but it doesn’t have any words that suggest people go there for more information as the rules state. The rules say the “MyPlate icon on food packaging should be used with text.” Is a Web address the type of text they mean? Since the Web address is always part of the icon, I don’t think it is.
I’m not suggesting that the beans in the Goya cans don’t meet the guidelines for MyPlate. They do. They’re a great source of protein and fiber and they’re low in fat. (Remember that the MyPlate guidelines don’t deal with issues like genetically modified ingredients or the BPA that might be in the can.) I’m simply remarking on the use of the icon on the can and taking a look at the rules and guidelines that the USDA has created for its use.
While I don’t have a problem with the icon being on a can of beans, I might have a problem with seeing the icon on a box of sugary cereal. I haven’t seen that yet, but if I’m reading the guidelines correctly, there isn’t anything to stop that from happening.
And, if there’s a perception that having the icon on a package is an endorsement of the product by the USDA, then I think we have a problem here.
Have you seen the MyPlate icon on any packaged foods in your grocery store? What products have you seen it on, and what was your impression when you saw it?