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Front-of-package nutrition keys hit the wrong note

The Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers of America announced earlier this week a plan to use a series of symbols on the front of food packages to convey nutritional information to consumers. The nutrition keys will include four basic icons for calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugars. As an option, packages may also list up to two "nutrients to encourage:" protein; fiber; vitamins A, C, and D; and potassium, iron, and calcium.

Here's what they look like:

Already, the industry is patting itself on the back, “Today’s sophisticated consumer wants more information about their food than ever before,” said Leslie Sarasin, president and chief executive officer of the Food Marketing Institute in a release.  “Nutrition Keys, combined with the many innovative nutrition education tools and programs in retail stores, is helping us meet that challenge and exceed consumer expectations.”

Really, exceed expectations? I don't think so. I see quite a few problems with this program.

If the idea is to make nutrition information easier to read, why are the daily values so small? They're nearly invisible. It's unlikely most consumers know the difference between grams and milligrams until they see the information in context. Daily values are important. And, while it's great to see sugar on the label, it's added sugar (the keys list total sugar) that really matters.

More disturbing however is that the industry preempted The Institute of Medicine and the Food and Drug Administration. Both have been studying front-of-package labeling and are expected to release label recommendations in the near feature. Why is the industry in a rush to debut their own label? Perhaps because they're worried the FDA will suggest a label that highlights more than companies want to reveal—one that could actually encourage a customers to look past a product. The nutrition keys are difficult to read and hard to understand. So, I wonder, whose best interest is really in mind? 

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