Consumers are reportedly becoming savvier about purchasing decisions because they're spending more time reading product labels. But what if those labels are misleading? And for those of us who work in the baking industry, what if those labels are driving many consumers away?
I'm talking about total carbohydrate content, and whether fiber content should be listed independently and excluded from the Total Carbohydrate declaration on the Nutrition Facts panel. “In this way, Total Carbohydrates could be more clearly interpreted to mean glycemic carbohydrates without explicitly saying so,” says Rhonda Witwer, senior business development manager, nutrition, National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J. “This method of labeling would harmonize with nutrition labeling in Europe, which already excludes dietary fiber from the Total Carbohydrate content.” National Starch, and perhaps other ingredient suppliers, submitted a Citizen's Petition to the FDA in July of 2004, requesting that dietary fiber be taken out of the Total Carbohydrates line on the Nutrition Facts panel, since dietary fiber is not absorbed in the small intestine and is therefore a non-digestible or non-glycemic carbohydrate. To date, National Starch has received no response from the FDA, other than an indication that its petition was received.
Well, after five years, at least we know the petition arrived, so we can't blame the U.S. Postal Service.
“In early 2008, the FDA launched an effort to review new reference values used to calculate daily values of all nutrients. The effort also aimed to review what nutrients should be added or removed from nutritional labeling,” says Susan Gurkin, bakery, snacks and cereals category marketing manager, Cargill Texturizing Solutions, Minneapolis. “Because of the importance of fiber in the diet, fiber was a key part of this nutrient initiative. To date, the FDA is still reviewing submissions.”
What is the FDA waiting for? How can consumers make better-informed purchasing decisions if product labels only give half the story? I'm not suggesting that labels become encyclopedic. Overly comprehensive labels would not only add packaging costs and make labels illegible, but would bombard consumers with too much information as well.
Theoretically, the FDA is completely revamping the Nutrition Facts Panel and is planning on introducing all the changes at one time. I may be retired by then.
In the meantime, bakers who add dietary fiber to their products must find other ways of educating consumers about the healthful benefits these items offer.