Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, in a warning to consumers today, announced an investigation into a potentially misleading national food label program that deems mayonnaise, sugar-laden cereals and other nutritionally suspect foods "Smart Choices."
A "Smart Choices" symbol now prominently appears on select food and beverage labels nationwide and claims to help guide consumer food choices.
Foods bearing the Smart Choices symbol include Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise (light and non-light), Breyers ice cream and sugary processed cereals such as Froot Loops, Cocoa Krispies, Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs.
The only Smart Choices beverages are Lipton products, excluding a vast majority of healthier food and beverage options.
"These so-called Smart Choices seem nutritionally suspect -- and the label potentially misleading," Blumenthal said. "The Smart Choices label adorns sugar-laden cereals appealing to children, but not many healthier breakfast choices. Our investigation asks what objective scientific standards, research or factual evidence justify labeling such products as 'smart.'
"Our question is: explain the smart in Smart Choices. What is so smart about mayonnaise, Froot Loops and Cocoa Puffs? Sugar-coated cereals may be nutritionally sounder than some fast food -- but hardly smart. Such wholesale health claims may mislead consumers into malnutrition. Busy moms and dads deserve truth in labeling -- particularly when their children's health is at stake.
"We have serious concerns about the research and reasoning behind a program that promotes fat-saturated mayonnaise and sugar-studded cereals as nutritional smart choices. These concerns -- potentially misleading and deceptive labeling of nutritional value -- apply to other supposed Smart Choices label products marketed to adults as well as children.
"At a time when healthcare efforts rightly focus on prevention of obesity and malnutrition, false and misleading labels may derail, destroy and delay such laudable national goals. Meaningful nutritional information is welcome, but not faux food facts."
Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, said, "It is very important that consumers have truthful and non-deceptive nutrition information if they are to make informed choices."
Blumenthal has requested information from Smart Choices Program, Inc., the organizations which administer the program (NSF International and American Society for Nutrition), and major food manufacturers whose products bear the Smart Choices label, including Kellogg Company, PepsiCo, Inc. and General Mills, Inc.
Blumenthal's investigation seeks details about the consumer research and selection criteria driving the Smart Choices program; the process and fees involved in administering the program; and any payments or developmental role that major food manufacturers might have provided for the program.