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In the latest example of the food industry’s close attention to health-and-wellness issues affecting consumers, the “Smart Choices Program” made its official debut yesterday, its green check mark symbol now appearing on of hundreds of products in supermarkets and other retailers across the United States. The first-ever uniform front-of-pack nutrition-labeling program was developed by a broad coalition of scientists, nutritionists, consumer organizations and food industry leaders to promote public health by helping shoppers make informed food and beverage choices within product categories.
In contrast to nutrient-scoring systems, rankings or store-based programs, Smart Choices uses the check mark logo on the front of a product package to provide consumers with “at-a-glance” assurance that a product has met stringent science-based nutrition criteria derived from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, reports from the Institute of Medicine, and other sources of authoritative nutrition guidance. Qualifying products will also include an on-pack indicator that shows calories per serving and servings per container.
Participating companies with their own nutrition-labeling symbols have starting using the Smart Choices logo instead, which the coalition hopes will bring clarity and consistency to the U.S. marketplace across stores and brands.
“The coalition worked very hard to develop nutrition criteria that met the highest of standards, and a symbol consumers would appreciate and recognize when making choices at the point of purchase,” noted Eileen T. Kennedy, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. “By providing a single, simple communication on the front of the package, the Smart Choices Program can help alleviate confusion in the supermarket and help today’s busy shoppers make smarter choices for their families in store and at home.”
About 500 well-known products, including ones manufactured by ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Sun-Maid, Tyson and Unilever, have already qualified for the Smart Choices Program designation in the program’s 19 categories, which include beverages, cereals, meats, dairy and snacks. By May 2010, over 1,200 items will carry the symbol and calorie indicator.
“Additional products will be added from the various manufacturers as more items qualify, or are reformulated to receive the check mark,” a spokeswoman for the program told Progressive Grocer.
To display the Smart Choices Program symbol, a food or beverage can’t exceed standards for specific “nutrients to limit” and, for most categories, must also provide positive attributes such as “nutrients to encourage” or “food groups to encourage.” Specific qualifying criteria were developed for each of the 19 product categories.
Under the program, nutrients to limit are total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and added sugars and sodium; nutrients to encourage are calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E; and food groups to encourage are fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low fat or fat-free milk products.
Smart Choices’ nutrition guidelines are flexible and adaptable, allowing for revisions in accordance new public policy, updated dietary guidelines and emerging consensus science. The nutritional criteria, which will be adjusted to reflect the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, should recommendations change, are fully transparent and publicly available to consumers.
The program was originally coordinated by The Keystone Center, a nonprofit organization specializing in coalition-based public health solutions. Currently, the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), a professional research society dedicated to nutrition science, and NSF International, a not-for-profit public health organization that certifies products and writes standards for food, water and consumer goods, jointly administer Smart Choices and evaluate products to ensure they meet the nutrition criteria before receiving the check mark symbol.