Incredulous U.S. grain foods industry blasts USDA study

by Suzi Fraser
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Strong condemnation echoed through the U.S. grain-based foods industry in reaction to a U.S. Department of Agriculture article assigning "refined grains" significant blame for the nation’s rising obesity rates.

"Americans eat too much refined grain," the authors of the USDA report said.

To John J. Gillcrist, chairman of the North American Millers’ Association, the USDA data forming the basis of the report should lead to a conclusion exactly the opposite of what the authors reached.

"After reviewing the USDA consumption data, it’s inconceivable that they can conclude that grain-based foods are a major contributor to obesity in the U.S.," said Gillcrist. "Clearly, fat and sugar consumption is grossly disproportionate and way out of balance with the Food Guide Pyramid.

"In fact, given actual calorie intake and what we know to be per capita flour consumption in the U.S., before waste, and what we know to be substantially higher grain-based foods consumption in other ‘healthy-diet’ countries, it’s hard to believe that there isn’t room for a significant increase in grain-based foods consumption in a healthy U.S. diet."

Particularly disturbing was that the report emanated from the USDA, said Paul C. Abenante, president of the American Bakers Association.

"What has come out from the USDA is unconscionable," Abenante said. "To usurp the role of the Dietary Guidelines without any nutritional or medical backing is totally irrational. In this report, we have some statistics and extrapolations that are confusing and in some cases wrong. USDA has put out a study that totally undermines their own analysis and findings. It’s inexcusable."

Slings from the USDA and others notwithstanding, a rational approach to diet ultimately will prevail in the United States, said Timothy S. Webster, president and chief executive officer of American Italian Pasta Co., Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.

"When you look at the Mediterranean and Asian diets, you find carbohydrates are at the center and these are incredibly healthy long-living populations," he said. "Over time, common sense will rule, and people will find that grain-based foods products like pasta belong at the center of the plate. In the case of our product, pasta is a non-fat, sodium free, cholesterol-free food. Pasta is a great food."

"When you consider the enrichment standards and the benefits of grain-based foods and in advance of a review of the Dietary Guidelines and with no nutritionist participation whatsoever, I’m totally baffled," Abenante said.

"It’s the calories, dummy!" may be the most succinct summary of Judi Adams’ reaction to the USDA report. Adams is executive director of the Wheat Foods Council in Parker, Colorado, U.S.

"What they pointed out over and over again is that we are eating more and more calories," she said. "To blame it on a single food group just does not make sense."

Adams said she was struck by its many factual inaccuracies.

"I normally feel very confident in the statistics we receive from the USDA, but this study makes me question them," she said.

In one passage, the authors stated, "The food supply series excludes popcorn and other whole grain foods, such as wheat bran, wheat germ, wheat berries, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, kamut, quinoa, spelt and triticale."

Adams noted that wheat bran and wheat germ are not whole grains.

"In addition, they lump ‘whole wheat flour’ into the white flour category and report it as one number. In case they don’t know, whole wheat flour is a whole grain product."