The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI) have unveiled plans to create a front-of-package (FOP) labeling system that aims to “inform consumers and combat obesity.” According to an October 27, 2010, joint press release, the FOP system will display “important information on calories and other nutrients to limit… in a fact-based, simple and easy-to-use format.” The two industry groups have also pledged to consult stakeholders as they work to finalize the system and “provide consumers with information on nutrients needed to build a ‘nutrient-dense’ diet and on ‘shortfall nutrients’ that are under-consumed in the diets of most Americans.”

The announcement followed the release of an Institute of Medicine report calling for FOP labels that highlight the nutrients of greatest concern to consumers—calories, saturated fats, trans fat, and sodium—as well as serving size. Co-sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Phase 1 report examined and compared 20 different FOP rating systems as part of the agency’s push to implement uniform standards. “As details get worked through, our hope is that the industry will develop a label that aids in consumer understanding and helps parents and other shoppers easily identify and select products that contribute to a healthy diet,” one FDA spokesperson was quoted as saying. Additional details about the IOM report appear in Issue 368 of this Update. See The New York Times, October 27, 2010; Bloomberg, October 28, 2010.

Meanwhile, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has expressed reservations about the new initiative, claiming that a “credible system” must show a product’s calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar content. “Last time the food industry developed a front-of-package labeling system it was a complete flop that put ‘Smart Choice’ icons on junk foods like Froot Loops,” opined CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson in an October 27, 2010, press release.

New York University Professor Marion Nestle also greeted the pledge with skepticism, blogging that the industry “would much rather label their products with all the things that are good about them” while avoiding any “negative” information. “There is only one explanation for this move: heading off the FDA’s [FOP] initiatives,” concludes Nestle, who urges the food regulator to adopt mandatory measures. See Food Politics, October 28, 2010.