The National Consumers League (NCL) has filed a formal complaint with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), alleging that NuVal LLC’s point of purchase nutrition rating system is “inconsistent with FDA guidance statements and enforcement correspondence, federal nutrition programs, and recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM).” Used by more than 1,600 grocery stores in 31 states, the NuVal system apparently scores products out of 100 total points, with more nutritious options garnering a higher rating. NCL has argued, however, that NuVal relies on “a proprietary, non-public algorithm that can lead to inconsistent scores that may confuse and mislead consumers,” and has asked FDA to issue a warning letter to the retail industry about its continued use.  

Citing an IOM report on nutrition rating systems that criticized NuVal’s formula, the NCL complaint contends that NuVal “runs afoul” of FDA Guidance on Point of Purchase Labeling, which stipulates that all such systems “be nutritionally sound, well-designed to help consumers make informed and healthy choices, and not be false or misleading.” In particular, the group has charged NuVal with promoting inconsistent ratings that privilege processed foods over canned fruits and vegetables, as well as using the “proprietary” Overall Nutritional Quality Index faulted by both IOM and National Cancer Institute for its purported lack of transparency.

“The NuVal rating system is fatally flawed and should be discarded,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg in a May 10, 2012, press release. “Its algorithmic formula—which is not transparent to consumers or the scientific community—results in snack chips, soft drinks, and desserts being given as high or higher nutritional scores than some canned fruits and vegetables. NuVal’s so-called nutritional ratings are a travesty that confuse, rather than enlighten, consumers. We need the FDA to step in and set industry-wide standards. Moreover, the FDA should not allow NuVal or any other flawed nutritional rating system to further confuse consumers who are trying to make healthy decisions for their families.”