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'Smart Choices' Label Dumbs Down Nutrition


ConAgra is rolling out the Smart Choices label -- a big green check mark on certain products to let consumers know that the product meets "science-based nutrition criteria."

Consumers will no longer have to bother actually reading ingredient lists or nutrition details, because "science" has determined for them which products are deserving of the friendly green "health" check mark. Other participants in the Smart Choices program include PepsiCo, General Mills, Kraft and Wal-Mart.

I don't even know where to start with this. Listing calories on the front of the package is useful, but aside from that, the Smart Choices system is overly simplistic and rewards products like sugar-free Jell-O. These may be less unhealthy than other products but they're still not "healthy" by any stretch of the imagination.

Furthermore, the system can only promote foods that have labels in the first place, and as the Chicago Tribune pointed out, "if a food has a label, it is often a processed product that is less likely to be a healthy choice."

I'm also not sure where ConAgra nutrition VP Mark Andon gets off calling the system "unprecedented." Between NuVal, Nutritional Spotlight, Supervalu's Nutrition iQ, and the other new labeling systems coming out, the biggest criticism has been that there's too much information, not too little. And company executives are aware of this -- it was a prominent topic of discussion at a recent food business summit in New York.

Andon addresses the issue, saying Smart Choices "eliminates the need for multiple, often confusing symbols across the food industry." But that's assuming other companies will drop their competing systems and switch to Smart Choices, and I see no basis for that assumption.

UPDATED: The Coca-Cola Company is not part of the Smart Choices program and references stating otherwise have been removed.
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