Natural Foods Merchandiser

Council wants the whole truth on whole grains

New Food and Drug Administration guidelines determining how whole grain products can be labeled "don't meet the acid test of being consumer- and user-friendly," said a spokeswoman for the Whole Grains Council, a nonprofit industry group that has developed a stamp that appears on more than 600 whole grain products.

The FDA announced its draft guidelines on whole grain labels Feb. 15, and will accept comments until mid-April. According to the guidelines, products may only be labeled "whole grain" if they contain the "intact, ground, cracked or flaked fruit of the grains whose principal components—the starchy endosperm, germ and bran—are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain."

The guidelines would apply to every grain product from pizza to cereal. For instance, pizza could only be labeled "whole grain" or "whole wheat" if the crust is made entirely from whole grain flours.

The guidelines apply to barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, rice, rye, oats, sorghum, teff, triticale, wheat and wild rice, along with ancient grains such as amaranth, quinoa, spelt and kamut. They don't include soy, oilseed or root products.

Under the guidelines, manufacturers can still make factual statements on their labels such as "100 percent whole grain" or "10 grams of whole grains," provided the statements aren't false or misleading and "do not imply a particular level of the ingredient, i.e. 'high' or 'excellent source.'"

That would nix the stamps developed last year by the Whole Grains Council that label products with whole grains a "good source" (8 grams, or half a serving under the FDA's Dietary Guidelines), "excellent source" (16 grams) or "100% excellent source" (only whole grains are used in the product). An FDA spokesman said determinations about the stamps would be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account whether the labels are "truthful and not misleading." The FDA traditionally allows phrases such as "excellent source" only for nutrients, rather than ingredients

Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for the Whole Grains Council, said the council plans to respond to the FDA guidelines during the comment period. "It's really important that wherever the FDA ends up be very much like our stamps, which are easy for consumers to understand."

Harriman said under the FDA guidelines, a product with only 2 grams of whole grains could be labeled "whole grain," leading the consumer to think it contains a serving or more. "There's so much potential for false and misleading information with their proposals."

The new FDA labeling guidelines are expected to boost the sale of whole-grain foods, which were a $4.8 billion business in 2004, according to Packaged Facts, a New York-based market research company. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service reported that Americans bought 13 percent more pounds of whole grain products in the eight weeks following the release of the FDA's new dietary guidelines in 2005. Those guidelines recommend consumption of three or more servings of whole grains each day.

"In 2004, as many as 90 percent of Americans didn't consume the recommended daily allowance of whole grains, but the coming flood of new and reformulated products high in whole grain and fiber content should change that figure dramatically," Packaged Facts researchers concluded in an April 2005 report

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