Deception by Food-Industrial-Complex

Enough with such manipulation by the food-industrial-complex!  First Coca-Cola asserts that Coke is all natural! Then the Corn Refiners assert that High Fructose Corn Syrup is all natural, without regard to evidence, or to the damage that this causes to our bodies.  And most recently 10 of the largest food companies create a self-serving industry-designed nutritional scoring system that manipulates the truth to tout most of their food products – from mayonnaise to fruit loops – as healthy "smart choices."

When will these companies realize that effective marketing should be rooted in truth?

When will the food-industrial-complex recognize that our communities’ health is more important than profits at any cost?

When will hype and fads and simplistic diets hawked by marketers (100-empty-calorie-packs, low carb or low fat obsessions) give in to wholesome balanced truths about nutrition?

When will consumers and companies that are fed up with these shenanigans rise up in indignity to demand ethical behavior? 

Fortunately a number of nutritionists, watchdog groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, academicians from Dr. David Katz at Yale to Michael Pollan at Berkeley, and now even the CT Attorney General, are standing up to hold companies accountable and demand truthful assertions.

But if we are really going to overcome such concerted manipulation, a lot more will need to be done to educate consumers.

Here is an article detailing the Smart Choices shenanigans…

Copyright 2009 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)

October 21, 2009 Wednesday

NEWS; Pg. A1

950 words

Healthy choices? Maybe not. The FDA warns food manufacturers about front-of-package logos some critics say are misleading.

By Georgina Gustin • > 314-340-8195


Cocoa Puffs, Froot Loops, Lucky Charms – not exactly the breakfast of champions, many nutritionists would say.

But manufacturers have bestowed such sugary cereals with a little green label on the front of their packaging that proclaims these products are "Smart Choices."

The Smart Choices program, launched this summer by a consortium of food giants including Kraft, Kellogg, ConAgra and General Mills, was an industry-led effort to guide consumers to healthier food choices. But the program, and others like it, are under scrutiny for what critics say are lenient criteria and, in some cases, misleading guidance.

"Some nutritionists have questioned whether this is more marketing-oriented rather than health-oriented," said Margaret A. Hamburg, U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner. "We think that’s valid."

Hamburg announced Tuesday that the agency would more closely police such "front of label" packaging programs and will work with the industry to streamline their positive claims.

"There’s a growing proliferation of forms and symbols, check marks, numerical ratings, stars, heart icons and the like," Hamburg said in a conference call with reporters. "There’s truly a cacophony of approaches, not unlike the tower of Babel."

Consumers perusing grocery store aisles have indeed gotten accustomed in recent years to products emblazoned with icons and front-of-package claims. Some of these convey endorsements from health groups, such as the American Heart Association, which licenses its "heart check" icon to food manufacturers for a fee.

Some supermarket chains, such as Shop ‘N Save, have introduced color-coded shelf tags.

The strategy, food industry representatives say, is to help time-strapped shoppers more quickly identify healthful foods. But critics and advocates say these symbols have become a crutch, steering customers away from the more substantial information contained in the "Nutrition Facts Panel," on the back and sides of packages, toward choices that aren’t particularly healthy.

"There are products that have gotten the Smart Choices check mark that are almost 50 percent sugar," Hamburg noted, underscoring that the agency’s efforts are not designed to single out any particular company or program.

The FDA will work with the food industry to clearly define eligibility for on-package health claims and come up with uniform criteria for what can be considered a healthy choice, Hamburg said. Such an effort could lead to a simpler packaging landscape, with a single icon, much like one developed in the United Kingdom that rates products on fats, salt, sugar and calories, assigning a red, green or yellow light to each category.

Hamburg said this voluntary "traffic light" labeling has worked effectively in the U.K. and has hopes that a similar one could be in place here by the end of next year. If the industry balks, the agency could "move to a mandated approach if necessary," Hamburg added.

The agency also will examine labels for potentially misleading or false claims. In a letter sent to industry leaders Tuesday, the agency said it would look at the industry’s criteria for its program and compare them to the government’s own.

"Under our law foods are deemed misbranded if they contain false or misleading information," said Michael Taylor, an adviser to Hamburg. "If inconsistent with a healthy message, that could be misleading."

But Taylor said the agency could parse the statutes in different ways. "There are a couple different legal theories," he noted.

Food advocacy groups applauded the FDA’s plans.

"Consider Kraft’s Strawberry Bagel-ful, which is a mostly white-flour bagel stuffed with cream cheese and strawberry puree that is sweetened with sugar and colored with red dye 40," said Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has petitioned the agency to launch a single front-of-package labeling system for several years. "It’s exactly the kind of food we should be eating less of, but it gets the Smart Choices logo."

The Smart Choices program – the largest industrywide effort of its kind – got much of the attention Tuesday. But scientists who helped develop the program defend it, saying it uses the government’s own criteria for dietary guidelines and "healthy."

"All of the Smart Choices guidelines are based on consensus science," said Joanne Lupton, who worked on the program and is a professor of nutrition at Texas A&M University. "And at the top of that consensus science is the USDA’s dietary guidelines."

While the FDA has no guidelines determining how much sugar is "healthy" by its own definition, the Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines allow discretionary sugar in two categories – breakfast cereals and nonfat and low-fat dairy products – Lupton explained.

"You’re talking about 48 calories from sugar for a whole day for an otherwise healthy breakfast," Lupton said, referring to Froot Loops.

Asked whether the companies using the Smart Choices system would embrace a single program, Lupton said, "That was the whole incentive for us to get this coalition together. The companies were hearing back from customers saying they were getting confused. … When you think of 10 major food companies giving up their own criteria to come up with one system, I call that progress."

In the meantime, shoppers will have to navigate a symbol-strewn terrain – or take time to look at the fine print.

"We know consumers want reliable, accurate information, to help them build healthy diets," Hamburg said, adding, "I’d welcome the day that I can look on the front of a package and see information that I can trust."

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

related posts

post a new comment