The tussle over just how much information Americans need about their food hit a new milestone Tuesday when the Grocery Manufacturer's Association revealed its newest effort to comply with the FDA's demand for more consumer-friendly packaging. The new system, called "Nutrition Keys," highlights four pieces of nutritional information on the front of the box: calories, fat, sodium and sugar. If processed foods have some added benefit, like fiber, iron or protein, they can add up to two additional boxes alongside the standard four. Critics say Tuesday's launch was an attempt to cut the FDA off at the pass and substitute a system they support. The FDA proposal involves using the colors Red, Yellow and Green to signal foods that are hands-down healthy (green) to less-than great (yellow or red).
Food manufacturers and the government have had this back-and-forth before over labeling; it's what's behind labels such as "juice" as opposed to "juice drink," and why the term "lite" means lighter, as opposed to signaling a specific amount of fat and calories. There was also the disastrous, industry-backed "Smart Choices" program, whose downfall was its flexibility: as Forbes's Rebecca Ruiz pointed out at the time, the standards were generous, and foods including Kid Cuisine's Magical Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza and Slim Fast's Rich Chocolate Royale Shake made it onto the list of "Smart Choices." So, too, did sugar-laden (but fiber-containing) Froot Loops and Cocoa Krispies. The program died a relatively swift death in 2009.