The Food and Drug Administration released a guidance letter to the food industry last week, reminding manufacturers that point-of-purchase food claims, including front-of-package labeling, must not be misleading to consumers. The letter indicates that FDA is developing a proposed regulation to define the nutritional criteria for products using point-of-purchase claims, such as the heart-check mark, on the front of a food package or on retail shelf tags.
The letter, signed by Barbara Schneeman, director of the Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements, expressed concerns that this type of labeling may distract consumers from the Nutrition Facts panel and could present an incomplete picture of a food's nutrient package. A document providing background information on point-of-purchase labeling was included with the letter.
The guidance is the latest activity related to front-of-pack and point-of-purchase labeling. In September of 2007, FDA issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and held a public meeting to investigate the labeling systems used by food manufacturers and foreign governments, in an effort to determine whether FDA should set its own rules for a mandatory or voluntary system. IDFA provided written comments, indicating that these types of labels should not be mandatory.
In December 2008, FDA released a Letter to Manufacturers, reminding companies using front-of-pack nutrition-labeling symbols that these icons could be considered nutrition claims and should comply with all regulations on claims.
More recent action has been focused on the "Smart Choices" program, which was developed on the recommendations of a group that included food-industry and nutrition experts and FDA advisors. Many major companies have signed on to use the "Smart Choices" icon on their products, including Kraft Foods and ConAgra. However, FDA, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and the Attorney General of Connecticut have all expressed concerns about the program, bringing increased scrutiny and calls for action. Late last Friday, Smart Choices announced it is "postponing active operation."
IDFA reminds member companies that any statements or representations on their packages or point-of-purchase materials are considered labeling and should be truthful and not misleading to consumers. Members with questions on labeling or point-of-purchase claims may contact Michelle Matto, IDFA assistant director of nutrition and labeling, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs at email@example.com.