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Nutrition Labels Face Off

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The Institute of Medicine committee that developed the proposed front-of-pack nutrition rating system came up with a proposal that seeks to help the widest spectrum of consumers. In reading their final report, it was interesting to read that they took into account more than 20 rating systems, and that they were concerned about illiteracy.

fop_image.JPGIn other words, the group addressed many obstacles in developing its single, comprehensive nutrition rating program. For starters, the members remained faithful to old form with a bold calories-per-serving number. I suppose caloric intake is recognized by most of us, even though studies have shown not everyone knows what a calorie is.

guide_star.jpgSo, they also boosted the visuals. In a nod to the Guiding Stars program, created by Hannaford Supermarkets, the committee created a three-icon hierarchy that reflect the overall nutrition of the product, based on the amounts of trans and saturated fats, added sugars and sodium. Zero icons means less healthful, and three is most healthful. Guiding Stars uses the same format, as is shown at right.

facts_front.jpgThe Fact Up Front panel, introduced by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, is in the middle of a $50 million rollout. This system uses from four to six tabs. Calories, saturated fats, sodium and added sugars are mandatory, while the two other tabs are optional for reporting "nutrients to encourage" such as fiber or vitamins. In order to use these, however, the product needs to have at least 10% daily value of these nutrients. No icons are used.

As the process moves forward, the galaxy of stars, checkmarks, tabs and numbers from these various rating systems will likely be further reviewed for strengths and weaknesses. Given the enormity of the task, the IOM committee did heroic work. I would suspect that the final product won't be much changed. However, one thing is for sure. It will be a long while before we see any sort of single, unified rating system on the shelves.

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