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    Hain Celestial Expresses ‘Nutrition Keys’ Qualms

    Company advises waiting for evidence-based assessment, recommendations

    The Hain Celestial Group Inc. backs what it calls a “back-to-basics approach to product labeling,” and is urging all consumer packaged goods companies to adopt truth-in-labeling standards. The company’s standards, however, aren’t necessarily those of the CPG industry’s “Nutrition Keys” front-of -package labeling program, which launched earlier this year.

    "As the natural and organic leader in consumer packaged goods, Hain Celestial's mission statement is built around 'A Healthy Way of Life' with healthy and nutritional sustainable food choices,” noted Irwin D. Simon, president and CEO of Melville, N.Y.-based Hain Celestial. “Nutrition Keys’ on-pack information may disguise the true character of a product in order to induce purchase and influence consumers' selections.”

    According to Simon, Nutrition Keys could misleadingly represent a non-nutritive snack as better-for-you fare. “This seems similar to the 'Smart Choices' program introduced last year by an overlapping group of companies, which consumers rejected after seeing it applied to products that clearly weren't 'smart',” he said. “We have a responsibility to educate consumers as to how to make good choices for themselves and their families, for both meal and snacking occasions. We support continued research and discussion on this important issue.”

    Hain Celestial’s stance stems from a “Perspective” column in the June 23 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine in which Kelly D. Brownell of Yale University and Jeffrey P. Koplan of Emory University criticized the content and timing of Nutrition Keys, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which have commissioned the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) to convene an expert committee and issue recommendations for front-of-package labeling. A final report is expected this fall.

    The company agrees with Brownell and Koplan’s opinion that the industry should wait for the IOM report, or run the risk of being perceived as untrustworthy and inviting further government intervention.

    Additionally, Hain Celestial believes that Nutrition Keys calls out information that may confuse shoppers by implying healthful benefits for foods, beverages and snacks that actually have low nutritional value.

    Other Nutrition Keys critics include the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, whose executive director, Michael Jacobson, accused the program this past January of “[appearing] to be designed to distract consumers' attention from, not highlight, the high content of sodium, added sugars or saturated fat in all too many processed foods.”

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