The food industry initiated an effort to put nutrition facts on the front of packaging for processed foods and beverages to better help consumers in making sound nutritional choices at the supermarket. The move is drawing criticism from public health experts and even the Obama Administration.

The food industry is unveiling plans to this year put nutritional labels on the front of packages on a voluntary basis will begin with "nutrition keys" in addition to more comprehensive nutrition labels that are required elsewhere on packages. Four basic icons will be found on most packages grouped as a set, indicating calories, amount of saturated fat, sodium and sugar per serving. They will not replace the Nutrition Facts label found on the back of most food packaging, which has been required by federal law since 1994.

Spearheaded by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the new, voluntary front-of-package (FOP) labeling system, dubbed Nutrition Keys, is designed to be “fact-based, simple and easy to use,” and could be the most significant revision in food labeling since the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, which introduced the back-of-label Nutrition Facts panel.

“We developed this as an effective way to bring nutrition to the front of panel, so consumers can begin to build a healthy diet right from the start,” explains Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the majority of processed food and beverage makers as well as retailers.

The goal is to help unify the front of food packages, which often incorporate an array of graphic differing symbols and codes, to educate consumers on healthy foods. But according to reports, the Obama administration has stated that, “in the end, the label was going to be confusing, because those things would be included out of context, and it could make unhealthy foods appear like they had some redeeming quality.”  

Once the guidelines go into effect, the food industry could come under pressure to change packaging again. In a statement, the White House said the labeling initiative was “a significant first step” but added that it would “look forward to future improvement” in the system. It said the Food and Drug Administration would closely monitor the effort “to evaluate whether the new label is meeting the needs of American consumers.”

Source: Grocery Manufacturers Association,,,