Experts Say Industry Food Labels Deceptive

New industry-paid food labels
A cereal box bearing new labels as part of the "Smart Choices" program, which is paid for by food industry manufacturers. Critics say the labels are misleading - appearing to be government-approved indicators of healthy products - and really push highly-processed foods.

It's a controversy that's as close as your local supermarket shelf - those familiar government nutrition labels. Now some big food manufacturers are adding labels of their own, as CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston reports.

Since the mid 1990s, if Americans wanted to know what was in their food, they had to look at government-approved nutrition facts on the side of the box.

Now, some packaged foods are getting new front-of-the-box labels.

"The purpose is to help people make choices about healthier food and to make different selections than they are making now," said Mike Hughes, chairman of the Smart Choices program.

Smart choices is a system designed by and paid for by the nation's major food manufacturers and managed by the American Society of Nutrition.

But critics say the program has a very different objective.

"The point of the program is to make processed foods look healthy when you really want people eating foods that have been as minimally processed as possible," said Dr. Marian Nestle, a professor of nutritional studies at New York University.

Nestle was astounded by some of the products that rate the Smart Choice designation.

"This is the first product that I've seen with this logo on it," she said, holding a box of Fruit Loops cereal. "And I was kind of amazed because this is a sugary cereal."

Food manufacturers say just because a product contains sugar doesn't make it bad.

"We believe that the smart choices program, taken in its totality, will encourage people to eat in line with U.S. dietary guidelines for Americans," Hughes said.

So far, 10 large food manufacturers, like Kellogg's and Kraft, are part of the Smart Choices program. With approximately 500 products, including Fruit Loops, Kid Cuisine cheeseburgers, Teddy Grahams and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, carrying the Smart Choices label.

The green mark does not mean government approval, but critics say there's a danger some consumers won't know that.

Shopper Laurie Adams told us that she believed the green check mark meant that the product was a healthy choice.

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling, is keeping close watch on the Smart Choices program. The major concern is that the labels may mislead consumers and encourage them to buy highly processed foods instead of fruits and vegetables.