The Whole Grain Mess

Jul
30
2007

The Whole Grain Mess

Q.  Daniel from Ithaca writes: “I love whole grains as much as I love clear, honest labeling of foods. It is discouraging that even the WholeGrainsCouncil.org label on some foods is misleading. I just saw a loaf of Rubschlager Wheat Bread with the WGC symbol on it. It contains: Whole wheat, enriched wheat and 2 different sweeteners. I’m not sure how this is “whole”. What if foods with the Whole Grains Council or other proclamation that it is a “Whole Grain,” contained only Whole Grains with no “enriched flour” or added sugars?”

A.  The companies would probably go out of business; they wouldn’t have a clue how to make bread without all that stuff. The Whole Grains Council is a trade association/public relations agency that uses nutrition messages about the health benefits of whole grains to promote the products of its 160 member companies. One of its goals is “To promote whole grains through a positive message about their benefits, rather than by criticizing refined grains.”

The Council takes advantage of a gap in regulations; the FDA has not defined the meaning of “whole grains” on food labels but, instead, has produced Guidance for Industry. Examples:

Question: Does the term “whole grain” mean the same as “100 percent whole grain”? If a product is labeled as “whole wheat bagel” or “whole wheat pizza,” how much whole wheat should it contain? Answer: FDA has not defined any claims concerning the grain content of foods…We recommend that products labeled with “100 percent whole grain” not contain grain ingredients other than those the agency considers to be whole grains….We note that wheat flour should not be labeled as a whole grain flour because wheat flour is a synonym of flour…However, whole wheat flour (§ 137.200) should be considered a whole grain flour because it contains all the parts of the grain, i.e., the bran, endosperm, and germ….

Question: What types of label statements about whole grains are currently permitted to be made on food products? Answer: Manufacturers can make factual statements about whole grains on the label of their products, such as “10 grams of whole grains,” “½ ounce of whole grains,” (21 CFR 101.13(i)(3)) and “100% whole grain oatmeal” (as percentage labeling under 21 CFR 102.5(b)), provided that the statements are not false or misleading under section 403(a) of the Act and do not imply a particular level of the ingredient, i.e., “high” or “excellent source.”

Translation: The Whole Grains Council is doing a bit of an end run around the FDA. Is this a public service? You decide. Check out the Bread chapter in What to Eat and enjoy whole grains!

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