A US public interest group has slammed Nutrition Keys, a new front-of-pack nutrition labelling system launched by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

The executive director of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has described Nutrition Keys as the food industry’s “second strike” after the failure of the Smart Choices labelling programme.

The Nutrition Keys labels include calories, saturated fat, sodium and total sugars content on the front of packages. According to the GMA and FMI, the icon is designed to inform consumers about how the key nutrients in each product fit into a “balanced and healthy diet as part of the federal government’s daily dietary advice”.

CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said yesterday (24 January): “The industry is striking out again with its new front-of-package Nutrition Keys. It’s a scheme consisting of confusing icons that will largely be ignored by customers.”

He added that it is “unfortunate” that the industry would not adopt a more effective system, or “simply wait until the Food and Drug Administration developed a system that would be as useful to customers as possible”.

Jacobson suggested a system with green, yellow and red dots to indicate whether a food has a good middling or poor nutritional quality would “probably be a lot more effective” or alternatively, numerical ratings would allow people to compare brands.

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“In contrast, Nutrition Keys system appears to be designed to distract consumers’ attention from, not highlight, the high content of sodium, added sugars, or saturated fat in all too many processed foods.”