Psst! Got a new food product? Want to know the secret to getting customers to buy it?

That's easy. Just label it "lite" or "lean" or "extra lean" or maybe "low-fat."Products with those labels constitute one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry - and who can argue with success?

Well, actually, plenty of people can. Those labels are largely meaningless. That's why the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued more restrictive guidelines for the use of such labels. But the guidelines leave a lot to be desired.

Among other shortcomings, they don't apply to foods other than meat and poultry. That's because they are USDA guidelines; other foods are governed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Alcoholic beverages are governed by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Moreover, the USDA's guidelines still won't restrict the use of the term "lite" to suggest reduced calories, even though the term must be explained on the package.

What disarray! Clearly, Washington needs to take a new look at how some food products are labeled. Meanwhile, the wise consumer will ignore the labels and more carefully read what the packaging says about its contents.