No grain, no gain: Dutch consumer group fights 'misleading' whole-grain products

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Dutch consumer association, Consumentenbond, is fighting for tougher regulations on products claiming to be whole-grain as it says manufacturers are deliberately misleading consumers in their labelling.

Currently only bread must contain 100% whole-wheat flour in order to be labelled ‘whole-grain’, whilst other popular products such as crisp-breads, biscuits and gingerbread go unregulated.

The health benefits of whole-grain products are widely publicised; a study by Food and Nutrition Research found that consumption of whole grains reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes, some cancers and high cholesterol.

Government bodies in many countries including the UK, Germany and Denmark advise increasing the intake of whole grain; the UK’s Food Standards Agency recommends to the public: “Try to choose wholegrain varieties whenever you can” in its Guide to Healthy Eating.

However, many food manufacturers are using this publicity to promote products that contain levels of whole-grain Consumentenbond finds to be wholly misleading.  

Its campaign Kletsplaatjes shows a ‘wall of shame’ highlighting products whose packaging does exactly this. Jumbo supermarket’s ‘Whole-grain crispbread’ for example, contains only 41% whole-wheat flour - just enough to make the cracker appear brown.

Such products are common, and consumers are misled into believing their intake of dietary fibre is far higher than it really is, says Consumentenbond.

White flour, which is cheaper and usually compensates the lack of whole-wheat, contains a third the levels of fibre and is thus less beneficial for health.

Babs van der Staak, head of communications at Consumentenbond told FoodNavigator: “We see a lot of support from consumers on social media. People find this deceptive and our tweets and posts about this issue are widely shared on social media, indicating that people agree with us and find that something needs to be done.”

The American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) last year gave a recommended standard of eight grams whole-wheat per 30 grams of product to qualify as ‘whole-grain’, and suggested a voluntary labelling system.

The situation in Europe, according to Staak, still requires harsher measures.

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