Bye Bye, Smart Choices Program

On Friday, the Smart Choices Program, an industry-funded labeling program,  "voluntarily" postponed active operations and will not encourage wider use of the logo at this time by either new or currently enrolled companies," reports Reuters. Participating companies include: Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Inc., General Mills Inc., Unilever PLC, PepsiCo Inc.'s Quaker Foods and ConAgra Foods Inc., among others.

This decision was made just days after the FDA warned it was investigating if nutrition claims on the front of packages were misleading and would take action against false or misleading claims. Consumer advocates and nutritionists have complained that some sugary cereals and high-salt foods display a "Smart Choices" checkmark on their packages to promote the products as healthy.

During a press conference last week, the FDA said it was developing a proposed regulation to define criteria for front-of-package claims and exploring if consumers would benefit from a single symbol to give a quick and accurate idea of nutritional content.

"Our nutrition criteria are based on sound, consensus science," said Mike Hughes, chair of the Smart Choices Program and vice-president for science and public policy at the Keystone Center. "But with the FDA's announcement that they will be addressing both front-of-package and on-shelf systems, and that uniform criteria may follow, it is more appropriate to postpone active operations and channel our information and learnings to the agency to support their initiative." And he added, "We welcome the FDA's interest in developing uniform front-of-package and shelf-labeling criteria. The Smart Choices Program shares that exact goal and was designed to provide a voluntary front-of-package labeling program that could promote informed food choices and help consumers construct healthier diets. We continue to believe the Smart Choices Program is an important step in the right direction."

Hughes announced the group also is working with Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, who earlier this month sent letters to food manufacturers seeking information into how the Smart Choices Program was developed.