On October 29, less than three months later, most of the companies announced they would suspend their participation in "Smart Choices" and “phase out” products sporting the checkmark. How did this happen?Since its launch, "Smart Choices" has been the subject of much criticism: all argued that the criteria of the programme were too lenient and that products having nutritional qualities, uncertain at best, carried the label (such as Kellog's "Froot Loops" or Kraft's "Macaroni & Cheese"). The outcry was so great, ("These are horrible choices", said the chairman of the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health) that on 19th August the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture wrote to the heads of "Smart Choices" that it would be alarming if the sign "had the effect of encouraging consumers to choose highly processed foods and refined grains instead of fruit, vegetables and whole grains". The Attorney General of Connecticut stopped it in its tracks by launching an investigation to determine whether "Smart Choices" did not breach the nutritional laws and regulations of his State. On 20th October the FDA announced it was starting a general audit of all the on-pack nutrition labelling programmes, making the subject one of its priorities. From the 26th, one brand after the other suspended its participation.
This case of "nutriwashing" is unprecedented. It has two major consequences:
- It exacerbates the loss of trust that we have observed for several years with regard to brands as well as all sources of authority: how can one believe that these companies did not try a form of "laundering" of their products with "dubious" nutritional virtues? Could one even imagine that the scientists, professional organizations and NGOs who participated in this project will come out of it unscathed?
- This is another example where consumers and their representatives take control: scientists, consumer groups, nutritionists and consumers on the Internet have participated in the "Smart Choices" protest movement.