Timing of the nutrition labeling initiative spurs criticism

Criticism surrounding the Grocery Manufacturing Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute's nutrition labeling initiative is indicative of heightened media and consumer scrutiny in the food industry.

Criticism surrounding the Grocery Manufacturing Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute's nutrition labeling initiative is indicative of heightened media and consumer scrutiny in the food industry.  

The organizations presumably launched the initiative, which tasks food packaging companies to provide front-of-label product information about sodium, sugar, and calories, to ward off regulations. Despite the organizations' effort to inform transparently about nutritional content, such is the feeling of critics who cite other motives. 

The organizations announced the initiative during what insiders are calling the “perfect storm” of food news and buzz, with the new dietary guidelines launching on Monday, Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, and her work with Walmart, among other food-related news. 

Just prior to the GMA announcement and response, the Walmart initiative – it touts a five-year plan to reduce unhealthy salts, fats, and sugars in its packaged food products, and to drop prices on fruits and vegetables – was accepted with open arms.

This speaks to the influence of the first lady, especially with regards to the uniqueness of her supporting a corporate partnership, as well as heightened scrutiny at a time when nutrition is at the top of everyone's news feed and social media is sowing a new crop of well informed consumers and media.

Inauthenticity is also apparent as a result of a report that the industry initially wanted to highlight beneficial nutrients. According to the The New York Times:

But in fact, the industry went its own way after months of talks with the White House and the Food and Drug Administration broke down.

The Obama administration wanted the package-front labels to emphasize nutrients that consumers might want to avoid, like sodium, calories and fat. But manufacturers insisted that they should also be able to use the labels to highlight beneficial nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and protein.

True, the associations have a larger responsibility to lead the effort to address the possibility of regulations, compared with suppliers. They're also under pressure to inflict better nutritional practices upon suppliers.

Had the industry developed this front-of-label initiative years ago, before the new guidelines, school lunch regulations, and Michelle Obama and corporate pledges to reduce salt sent the industry and bloggers scurrying, the response may have carried a different tune, presumably one with less fat. 

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