The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently accepting comments for the proposed revision of its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional program, which is due to be updated for the first time in over 25 years in order to better reflect the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
And according to the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) International, it is crucial for the USDA receive comments on comprehensive and accurate whole grain classification before the new guidelines are established.
"Once you have a legislative precedence, then this is frequently used by other groups and agencies that make dietary recommendations. That's one of the reasons we think it's really important to get this one right," said Whole Grains Task Force chair Julie Jones in an interview with FoodNavigator-USA.com.
WIC food packages were designed to provide supplemental foods to address the nutritional needs of low-income pregnant or breastfeeding women as well as infants and children up to five years of age.
Based on recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which was requested to independently review the food packages, the USDA's changes to the program would implement the first comprehensive revisions to the WIC food packages since 1980.
The proposed changes would add fruit, vegetables and whole grains to the WIC packages for the fist time. But a key issue, and one which has inspired much debate and disagreement within the Task Force itself, remains how whole grain foods should be classified.
The Committee's general consensus is that the FDA's current whole grain health claim, which requires that products contain 51 percent whole grains by weight, remains limiting. And although a final decision has not yet been reached, the committee is strongly in favor of requiring 51 percent of the grain to be whole, rather than 51 percent of total ingredients, in order for a product to be truthfully labeled 'whole grain'.
Another issue the Task Force is looking at is the best way to describe and classify grains that have lost some portion of the kernel, but are not refined. Ongoing discussions are examining whether only those grains with 100 percent of their bran, germ and endosperm can be considered whole grain, or whether some small loss should be allowed for.
The best way to label multigrain foods that are predominantly whole grain is also under discussion, as well as whether or not "made with whole grain" should be defined.
Another issue is whether "daily value" should be in grams for whole grain consumption, and whether the science is strong enough to go with the 48g precedent. And when a product is labeled as 100 percent whole grain, the Task Force asks what "wiggle room" should be allowed for other grain portions, such as vital wheat gluten and starch release agents. USDA FSIS favors a 0 percent level, while the FDA standard of identity for whole wheat bread suggests it may favor some reasonable levels.
The inconsistent use of serving sizes and how nutrition education can deal with this is also under consideration, as well as ways to encourage the harmonization of USDA FSIS packaging guidelines with FDA packaging guidelines.
The Whole Grains Task Force includes representatives from industry such as ConAgra, Danisco and General Mills, non-profit groups such as the Whole Grains Council, and government agencies such as the USDA.
The Committee recently held an open whole grains forum at the World Grains Summit in San Francisco, where further discussions were held, and where a number of differing opinions were expressed, demonstrating the difficulty in establishing whole grain definitions and guidelines.
The Task Force, which yesterday had another conference call in which debates continued, hopes to submit its comments for the USDA's WIC guidelines by the week of October 23. The USDA's deadline for receiving comments is November 6.