The proposal from the New-Jersey maker of the Hi-maize resistant starch brand has been driven by various factors, notably the move to raise the profile of fibre - encouraging food makers to focus on fibre in their product development strategies - and to bring US rules into line with Europe and Australia.
"Everybody understands now about the benefits of fibre, and yet it was an invisible topic. We thought that if you took fibre out of the carbohydrate label this would be a non-controversial and clear way to inform the consumer about the fibre content," Rhonda Witwer, business development manager of Nutrition at National Starch told NutraIngredientsusa.com.
Proven health benefits of fibre and a recent message from public health authorities that consumers should double their fibre intake mean that consumers are already likely to be looking for fibre information on food labels.
But in the current climate where US consumers remain wary of high carbohydrate content as a result of the popular Atkins diet - that has an estimated 30 million followers - the current label might not only confuse the consumer, but also dissuade them from the buying the product.
"Given this area has grown so fast and consumers are increasingly looking for credible information about carbohydrates, especially on food packages, the FDA and all of us in industry face the challenging task of clarifying carbohydrate definitions," Mike Klacik, senior director of Nutrition and Bioscience, National Starch said in a statement.
Europe and Australia have a totally separate listing for fibre on the nutrition facts panel of the food label, a fact highlighted by the starch firm in the petition. National Starch proposed to the Food and Drug Administration that fibre be listed separate from 'Total Carbohydrates' on the nutrition facts panel of the US food label. "One of the rationales behind the US moving to this type of labelling is that it would provide consistency to global food labels, in particular for international firms working in these different geographical zones," said Witwer.
Generally carbohydrates can be divided into two categories: those which are digested in the small intestine and those which are not. Sugars and most starches fall into the first category. They are rapidly digested to glucose and absorbed, used for short-term energy needs or stored. These are considered available, digestible and glycaemic carbohydrates.
Fibre, by definition, passes through the small intestine and provides no short-term energy but has a variety of physiological effects in and emanating from the large bowel. These are referred to as non-digestible, non-glycaemic carbohydrates.
"Separating dietary fibre from total carbohydrates would begin the process of differentiating digestible and glycemic carbohydrates from non-digestible, non-glycemic carbohydrates on the Nutrition Facts Panel," said the starch firm.
But while National Starch has petitioned to lift fibre out of the 'Total Carbohydrates' box, the voice of the US food industry, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, focused on actual definitions for the net carbohydrates on the facts panel in its petition.
"The GMA is not in the business of taking 'sides' over the diets that consumers should follow, but we do work to promote accurate labels and consumer choice," a spokesperson for the industry body said to NutraIngredientsUSA.com.
You can not dictate to the consumer what foods he or she should consume, but you can help the consumer make their own choices, she added.
Food makers can currently legally make certain factual claims about products containing carbohydrates, for example 'contains 4g of carbohydrates', but they can not state that the product 'only contains 4g of carbohydrates' because this is a qualifying claim. The same applies for nutrient-content claims because there are currently no definitions set up under the FDA rules, hence the pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to come up with a proposed set of rules.
Definitions put forward by the GMA are 'carbohydrate-free', 'low carbohydrates', 'reduced carbohydrates', 'good source of carbohydrates', 'excellent source of carbohydrates'. The last two definitions aiming to provide accurate information for consumers looking for energy giving products.
An additional petition on the 'net carbohydrate content' was provided by the US food giant Kraft foods. Proposed rules from the FDA on this issue are expected by the end of the summer.