Blog: Dean BestFDA probe leaves Smart Choices smarting

Dean Best | 26 October 2009

Here in the UK, we all know just how detailed - and divisive - the debate on how foods are labelled has become.

Late on Friday, after the UK had packed away for the weekend, came news that a similar debate is heating up on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Smart Choices Program, a set of nutrition labels backed by the likes of Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, ConAgra Foods and Unilever, and launched to much fanfare this summer, has hit a roadblock. And that roadblock comes in the shape of the US Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA is examining the nutrition claims made on labels under Smart Choices amid concerns that the labels were being slapped on foods with high amounts of sugar - and on foods with up to 80% of a consumer's recommended daily intake of fat.

And, on Friday, came news that Smart Choices had "voluntarily" decided to stop rolling out the labels while the US regulators investigate.

The halt to Smart Choices merely adds to the consumer confusion around the labels on the foods they buy. The UK debate over traffic lights or GDAs is nothing compared to the amount of different labels developed in the US.

In the last couple of years, retailers like Hannaford and Supervalu Inc have launched their own separate labelling schemes. Then there is the NuVal scoring system used by grocers like Price Chopper and Hy-Vee.

Some consumer advocates have long argued for a mandatory, nationwide system to come into force in the US. The obstacles to such a scheme, given competitive interests, are manifold.

However, with Smart Choices smarting amid an FDA probe, calls for a unified system are likely to continue to grow.


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