by Marion Nestle
Aug 14 2013

General Mills wants the FDA to define “whole grain”

Ah the ironies of food marketing.  General Mills is asking the FDA to come up with a decent (translation: favorable to General Mills) definition of “whole grain.”

You might think that the meaning of “whole grain” is perfectly clear.  Wheat grains contain three parts, the bran, the germ, and the endosperm (the starch-and-protein part).

As I explained in a column for the San Francisco Chronicle, the FDA has not issued a rule defining whole grains.  Its has nonbinding guidance.  This says anything labeled “100 percent whole grain” must contain all three components of the original wheat seed, in proportion.

But what about products that are not 100% whole grain, which means most food products.  Here’s why General Mills cares about this issue:

Into this regulatory gap has charged the industry-sponsored Whole Grain Council, a trade association for marketers of whole grain foods.  The council issues two certifying stamps: 100 percent and Basic. One hundred percent fits the FDA guidance.

But the far more prevalent Basic stamp allows refined grains and not-necessarily-in-proportion additions of bran or germ.

General Mills wants the FDA to finalize its 2006 guidance).  This recommended:

  • At least 8 grams of whole grain per 30 gram serving for basic whole grain statements
  • At least 16 grams of whole grain per 30 gram serving for statements such as “100% whole grain”
  • All three components must be present in natural proportions

According to the account in Food Chemical News,  General Mills wants to head off the proposal from Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI); this would require posting the percentage of whole grains.

CSPI points out that many “whole grain” claims are misleading.  Without having to reveal the percentage of whole grain, companies can claim whole grains with only 8 grams of whole grains in a 30-gram serving.   This is 27% whole grain, meaning 73% not whole grain.

Yes, the FDA needs to act on this one, and the sooner the better.