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Froot Loops Unfortunate Mascot for Smart Choices Program

Smart Choices' bad reputation is growing. Nutritionist and food industry critic Marion Nestle pointed out recently that in the new front-of-package nutrition labeling scheme, sugary cereals like Kellogg's Froot Loops made the cut to receive an encouraging green Smart Choices check mark. The New York Times just picked up the story, putting it on the front page of the business section, and CBS followed, with both reports highlighting Froot Loops as one of the supposedly better-for-you options under the program.

More than forty percent of the calories in Froot Loops come from sugar, but apparently the program approved the cereal to let parents know that Froot Loops is a healthier option than, say, donuts. And the sugar will motivate kids to eat the cereal, which contains fiber and other nutrients, according to one Smart Choices board member.

Of course, Froot Loops is not the only dubious "Smart Choice" in the program, nor is Kellogg the only company involved. There's also Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Breyer's fat-free chocolate fudge brownie ice cream (Unilever), and Betty Crocker Fruit Roll-Ups (General Mills). PepsiCo and ConAgra participate in Smart Choices as well.

Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest was originally part of the panel to establish Smart Choices criteria, but he said the food industry dominated the decision-making process. "You could start out with some sawdust, add calcium or Vitamin A and meet the criteria," he told the New York Times.

Nestle has previously questioned why the American Society of Nutrition would be involved in such a program, but it turns out the companies are paying up to $100,000 a year for these labels -- and the fees are based on sales of Smart Choices-approved products, meaning the more products Smart Choices approves, the more money it gets.

The Food and Drug Administration recently expressed concern about the program in a letter it sent to the Smart Choices managers. Now the FDA has announced plans to research how consumers read, use and understand food labels -- which could eventually lead to a crackdown on industry-led labeling schemes like Smart Choices.

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