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Vilsack's Visit to Hy-Vee

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Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack paid a visit to Hy-Vee in Des Moines, Iowa this week to talk a bit about healthy eating and that topic that seems to be on everyone’s mind these days — nutrition labeling.

The point of reference here was the NuVal system Hy-Vee uses, which ranks food on a 100-point scale, with higher numbers indicating more nutritious choices. It’s definitely one of the easier-to-understand programs out there, and Vilsack, having strolled the aisles with Hy-Vee CEO Ric Jurgens checking out products (Frosted Mini Wheats, Mr. Secretary?), seems to agree. He praised NuVal and seemed — maybe? — to hint at the need for further label reform.

“If you take a look at a label — unless you’re a dietician or a chemist or a doctor — it’s really hard to determine between two products which is the best product for you and your family,” Vilsack said during a news conference at the store.

vilsack.jpgAmen to that. But if the secretary and the industry hopes to send a message about the need for clarity in nutrition labeling, they should be aware of what critics say about industry-led programs. According to them, the proliferation of different systems, each operating under different criteria, has only created further confusion. NuVal is different from Supervalu’s Nutrition IQ is different from Hannaford’s Guiding Stars, and so on. In one store you’ve got numbers, the other you’re reading the stars.

This critique resonates with a lot of people. And it’s part of the reason the Food and Drug Administration is on the labeling reform warpath right now.

So to come out and praise one systems sends a bit of a mixed message — but the larger point Vilsack made was right on target. Also notable is a new program he announced called “Healthy Initiatives”. Most of the details will become available next month, but we do know that it’s a $20 million program that will offer financial incentives to states that expand the availability of healthy foods to low-income consumers.

(Creative Commons photo by bran.dan)

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