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Pros, cons of new nutrition labels on front of food packages

July 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Many large companies are slapping a new labeling system on the front of food packages, but are these nutrition keys helpful?

Taking time to check the back of the box, it would seem we've become a nation of label readers. Various groups and companies tried to help by offering their own stamp, symbol or checkmark to help us shop smart, but often leave us more confused than ever on the health of a product.

In response, the Grocery Manufacture Association and the Food Marketing Institute teamed up to create nutrition keys on the front of the box.

"The companies really jumped the gun in putting the nutrition information in the front of the pack. Right now, there is a very in-depth study going on in the institute of medicine and we want to see what the science is, what is going to be the best for consumers, what is going to make it easiest for them to make choices, and then come up with the right kind of labeling scheme," said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

At a recent Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego, Wootan said since nutrition facts are already on the back, the front should be easy to understand.

"The front of the pack information should be real simple. Is it good? Is it bad? People are busy. There are 40,000 different products in a grocery store. They just basically want thumbs up or thumbs down," said Wootan.

Instead you get so much more. There are the stats on things you want less of - like calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar - yet trans fat is missing.

You don't see protein and carbohydrate counts - yet you do see potassium and fiber.

Keep in mind that all of this information is already found on nutrition facts.

"It's not nearly as strong as it could be, and it's too complicated," said Wootan.

Many health agencies would like to see products labeled similarly to what they do in Britain called "stop light" labeling. Green is for "go" and it's a healthy choice, and red means it's unhealthy and you should stop right there.


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