On Friday, the highly controversial Smart Choice food labeling program announced it will voluntarily “postpone active operations” three days after the FDA unveiled its plans to review any health claims displayed on the front of food packaging. While this means there will temporarily be no new processed junk food added to the list of “smart choices,” many existing products will continue to boast the deceptive label.
That’s weird. Why would a label that claims to be “coalition-based” run for the hills upon the FDA’s announcement that it will begin to vet nutritional claims found on the front of food packaging? If “scientists, academicians, nutrition educators, public health organizations, food manufacturers, retailers and government observers came together to create a robust system designed” for the consumer, if they were truly “transparent,” and if their standards were sufficiently “comprehensive” to apply to the “diet and health needs of the entire U.S. population,” then there should be no cause for concern.
Of course, the truth is their guiding principles are as fictitious as the labels health claims. What does this say about the Smart Choice standards? They obviously know it. It’s clear that Smart Choice had nothing to do with the dietary or health interests of consumers but instead was a marketing gimmick at best.
How quickly the tides can turn. PepsiCo has severed ties with Smart Choice, and Kellogg’s, the manufacturer of Froot Loops (the famed and ironic poster child of the campaign), stated that they would be phasing out Smart Choice endorsements. Even the FDA commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, commented that some foods deemed “smart choices” by the industry backed labeling initiative were in fact nearly “50 percent sugar.”
There is another angle to take on this, however. There is a lot of money to be made in the food labeling industry, particularly when it comes to endorsing qualities that render a product more competitive in the marketplace, such as nutritional value or how sustainably a product was produced.
Look at the “Organic” seal. The USDA performed a hostile takeover of organic certification several years ago when they realized just how big the organic food industry had become. The USDA’s purported intention was to create a standard and consistent definition of what it means for a product to be organic. But really all they did was make the organic label more expensive for producers (giving large companies a significant advantage), and less meaningful for consumers by watering down the standards.
The FDA is supposedly devising their own health labeling system. Let’s hope it doesn’t go the direction of the USDA’s Organic certification.