Food Industry Cooks Up New Nutrition Labels, But Leaves Critics Cool

The food industry has unveiled new nutritional labels that appear on the front of a product’s packaging, part of what executives call an effort to help consumers make healthier supermarket selections.

The centerpiece of the labeling initiative is the Nutrition Keys program, which replaces the Nutrition Facts label that has been on processed food packages for 17 years. With Nutrition Keys, all foods will have a diagram stating the amount of sugar, saturated fat, sodium and calories per serving. In addition, the quantities of one or two positive nutrients such as iron and fiber will be included.

“We developed this as an effective way to bring nutrition to the front of panel, so consumers can begin to build a healthy diet right from the start,” Pamela G. Bailey, chief executive of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told The Washington Post.

However, healthy-food advocates accused the industry of trying to preempt the Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to establish new labeling guidelines.

“You simply can’t leave it to an industry with so much money at stake to label its products in a way to benefit public health,” said Kelly Brownell, a food policy expert at Yale University.

The FDA and the food industry had been discussing a federally endorsed nutritional label in recent years, but negotiations hit a wall because of the agency’s lack of enthusiasm for including positive nutritional information. The FDA worries that the information could be used to make junk food seem healthful.

“The problem with it is they can mask a food high in fat, sugar and salt and make it look better than it really is,” said former FDA Commissioner David Kessler. “This is a missed opportunity. The failure of the industry to come together with the administration and public health groups will only add to the existing confusion about what we should be eating.”

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