Nutritionists, Gov’t Express Concerns Over Smart Choices

The recently launched “Smart Choices” food labeling program, which has been adopted so far by 10 consumer packaged goods companies, including Kraft, Unilever and Kellogg, has become controversial as some nutritionists object to the designation of such items as Froot Loops and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese as “better-for-you” items worthy of the program’s prominent green checkmark logo.

“These are horrible choices,” said Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department of the Harvard School of Public Health, told The New York Times, adding that the criteria used by the program were deeply flawed.

“The point of the program is to make processed foods look healthy, when you really want people eating foods that have been as minimally processed as possible,” Marian Nestle, a professor of nutritional studies at New York University, told CBS News.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture said it would monitor the program’s impact on consumers’ food choices, noting in an Aug. 19 letter to Smart Choices’ managers that it would be a worrying development if the checkmark “had the effect of encouraging consumers to choose highly processed foods and refined grains instead of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”

Eileen T. Kennedy, president of the Smart Choices board and the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, responded that Smart Choices’ criteria were based on government dietary guidelines and widely accepted nutritional standards. According to Kennedy, Froot Loops qualified for the logo because it meets standards set by Smart Choices for fiber and vitamins A and C, and because it stays within fat, sodium and sugar limits.

Last month, John Eldredge, director of brand & business development at Scarborough, Maine-based Guiding Stars Licensing Co., the licensing arm of the pioneering initiative originally introduced at Hannaford Supermarkets in September 2006 sounded a note of caution with regard to the manufacturer-developed program, when he noted that in contrast to Smart Choices, “Guiding Stars is an objective nutrition navigation program not influenced by food manufacturers that highlights foods that provide the most nutrition for the calories throughout the entire store -- including packaged, fresh and prepared foods.”
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