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Food Association Plans a Package-Front Label Showing Nutritional Data


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Responding to pressure from federal regulators, a major food manufacturers organization said Wednesday that it would develop a labeling system for the front of food packages that would highlight the nutritional content of foods, including things like calories, unhealthy fats and sodium that many consumers want to limit.

The group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said the labeling system would be introduced early next year.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association represents more than 300 large food, beverage and consumer product companies. It will work on the labeling system with the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group of major food retailers.

The Food and Drug Administration is moving to develop guidelines for the information on the front of packages.

Details on the labeling system were sketchy, and it was not clear that it would satisfy regulators’ preference for a system that would clearly alert consumers to the less-healthy aspects of many packaged foods.

A report this month by the Institute of Medicine called for package-front nutrition labels to show only calories, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium, the nutrients most closely associated with the major public health problems of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

“We’ve committed today to put nutrients to limit on the front of our packages,” Scott Faber, a vice president of the manufacturers association, said in referring to nutrients that can be considered health concerns. Mr. Faber said it had not yet been determined which nutrients would be on the label. And he said the group would not commit to keep off the types of nutrients that food companies like to trumpet on their packaging, like vitamins and fiber.

Mary Sophos, an executive vice president for the group, said the label would not characterize a food’s overall nutritional qualities as good or bad — like the traffic signal label in Great Britain that displays a red circle for less healthy nutrient levels and a green circle for healthier levels.

“We’re not going to get into interpreting elements of the food,” Ms. Sophos said.

An F.D.A. statement said, “Our hope is that the industry will develop a label that aids in consumer understanding and helps parents and other shoppers easily identify and select products that contribute to a healthy diet.”

The food industry was forced to halt a package-front labeling campaign called Smart Choices, which was criticized because it gave a nutritional seal of approval to foods like sugary cereals and highly salted frozen meals.

That led the F.D.A. to say it would set guidelines for package-front nutrition labels.

“Is this an effort to try to head off what the F.D.A. is doing?” said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University. “That’s what it looks like to me.”

A version of this article appeared in print on October 28, 2010, on page B4 of the New York edition.

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