WASHINGTON — In a step aimed at clarifying what food products may or may not be labeled as "whole grain," the Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 15 issued draft guidance on the term.
In the document, the agency said it considers whole grain to include cereal grains that consist, either intact, ground, cracked or flaked, "of the fruit of the grains whose principal components — the starch endosperm, germ and bran — are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain." As examples, the agency cited barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, rice, rye, oats, sorghum, wheat and wild rice.
While the guidance gives the okay for calling quick oats "whole grains," because the product contains the bran, germ and endosperm, other widely used products may not meet the whole grain definition. The agency said it does not consider products derived from legumes (e.g., soybeans), oilseeds (sunflowerseed) or roots (arrowroot) to be whole grain.
"The draft guidance specifically recommends that pizza only be labeled as ‘whole grain’ or ‘whole wheat’ when its crust is made entirely from whole grain flours or whole wheat flour, respectively," the F.D.A. said.
Robert E. Brackett, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the F.D.A., said, "The food label is the best tool we have to help consumers choose a healthy diet, which includes whole grain products."
The agency pointed out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend that half of the grain consumers eat should be whole grains. The recommended intake is at least three ounces of whole grain cereals, bread, crackers, rice or pasta each day.
Initial response from the food industry to the draft guidelines was positive.
"Since the release of the authoritative 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, food companies have been seeking ways to increase whole grain content in foods and to have the ability to communicate that information accurately," said Alison Kretser, senior director of scientific and nutrition policy at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. "By clarifying what is a whole grain serving, the F.D.A.’s new draft guidance gives the food industry a tool to communicate the health benefits of whole grains to all consumers via the food label."
The guidance could be viewed as a turnaround for the F.D.A., which in December failed to approve a petition that sought to define the terms "excellent source," "good source," and "made with" whole grains.
The petition, filed in May 2004 by General Mills, Inc., had suggested that the definition of "excellent source" of whole grains should be 16 grams per labeled serving; "good source," 8-15 grams; and "made with," at least 8 grams. In the draft guidance, the F.D.A. repeated that statements about whole grains on labels are not allowed if they "imply a particular level of the ingredient, i.e., ‘high’ or ‘excellent’ source."