The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) have introduced a new front-of-pack (FOP) labeling system in response to first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign for clearer consumer information. According to a January 24, 2011, press release, the Nutrition Keys initiative summarizes important information “from the Nutrition Facts panel in a clear, simple and easy-to-use format” that adheres “to current U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] guidelines and regulations.” The FOP label features four basic icons for calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugars, as well as optional “nutrients to encourage” icons indicating that the product meets FDA “good source” requirements and contains more than 10 percent of the daily value per serving for protein and the following under-consumed nutrients: potassium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, and iron. See GMA Press Release, January 24, 2011.

Food companies can begin using the new icons this year, but the system has already drawn criticism from consumer advocates and health officials who support FOP labels that also teach consumers what nutrients to avoid. “The industry’s unveiling today of its front-of-package labeling system is troubling and confirms that this effort should not circumvent or influence FDA’s effort to develop strong guidelines for FOP labels,” said U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). “Given that negative and positive nutrients will not be differentiated on the package, there is significant risk that these labels will be ignored. An adequate labeling system must clearly alert consumers about potentially unhealthy foods, and should not mislead them into believing that some foods are healthy when they clearly are not.” See The Center for Science in the Public Interest Press Release, DeLauro Press Release and The New York Times, January 24, 2011.