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Published: Sunday, 10/25/2009

FDA's smart choice

NUTRITION labels on food packages are supposed to be health-orientated, not marketing-orientated. Fortunately for consumers, the Food and Drug Administration aims to end the apparent trend toward the latter by raising the nutritional bar.

Specifically, says FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the agency is targeting the front panels of food packages that bear logos or language suggesting a product is more healthful than the actual ingredients suggest.

Without singling out any particular product, she did note that some labeled with the "check mark" logo under the industry-supported Smart Choices food rating program, "are almost 50 percent sugar."

It appears the cereal box check marks, meant to convince the public that sugar-laden foods are smart choices for breakfast, was the final straw for the FDA. It plans to issue new rules for nutrition-based standards that food-rating programs would be required to meet.

Hopefully that will keep consumers from being deliberately misled into thinking that products like ultra-sweet cereals are good for them. No more sugarcoating the facts or awarding faux nutritional seals of approval to, say, Froot Loops or Cocoa Krispies just to give them a marketing edge over competitors.

The FDA says it prefers to work voluntarily with industry to tweak product labeling that doesn't meet its guidelines but, in a letter to food companies, the agency warned that it would proceed with enforcement action where "labeling or labeling systems continue to be used in a manner that is false or misleading."

If this is evidence of a more aggressive FDA emerging under the Obama Administration, with a determination to enforce neglected consumer protection, it is welcome change indeed.

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