Brazil sets official definition of ‘whole grain’

10 May 2021

Products must contain at least 30% whole grain ingredients to use a whole grain claim in Brazil, under new rules.

According to the legislation, which enters into force on into force on 22 April 2022, cereal-based foods are considered whole grain when the finished product contains at least 30% whole grain ingredients and the quantity of whole ingredients is greater than the quantity of refined ingredients.

Brazil sets official definition of ‘whole grain’

Prior to this, there was no legal definition for the use of the term whole grain in Brazil, meaning any food could use the term on product labels, making informed purchasing decisions more difficult for consumers.

The full resolution can be read here (in Portuguese).

Brazil’s food safety regulatory authority, ANVISA, worked with the food industry to draw up the definition with input from civil society groups and a public consultation process.

Manufacturers are permitted to mix refined flour, bran and germ and make a whole grain claim as long as these ingredients are used in quantities that reflect the typical proportion within the intact caryopsis. However, the ingredient list must declare this as ‘whole reconstituted flour’, followed by the common name of the plant species used.

Cereals covered by the resolution include wheat, amaranth, rice, oats, rye, barley, fonio, millet, corn, quinoa, sorghum, teff, and buckwheat. These grains can be processed, such as milled or flaked, as long as the starchy endosperm, bran and germ are present in the same proportion as in the whole caryopsis, the text reads.

Cereal-based foods that do not comply with the whole grain definition cannot use words, symbols, illustrations or any other graphic representations that suggest a whole grain content.

The expert’s view: ‘An important regulatory precedent’

Francisco Jiménez, regulatory affairs adviser at InfoAlimentario, said: “With this new regulation for whole grain cereal-based foods, Brazil set an important regulatory precedent in Latin America, since no country in the region has such requirements like the minimum 30%.”

Jiménez described the regulation, which has been on the cards since 2017, represented a balance between consumer rights, cereal-based product innovation, and marketing practices.

“In my opinion, this minimum amount of whole grain represents the reality of the industrial practices not only in Brazil, but in the global cereal industry, coming along with the innovation processes in such industry,” Jiménez told The Ingredient Network.

“Companies whose products do not meet the criteria to be classified as whole grain, but contain whole grain ingredients have two options: reformulation or to adapt their labels to comply with the new provisions if there is an interest in making something like a whole grain claim.”

Misleading claims

A survey carried out in 2016 by Brazilian consumer rights watchdog IDEC found that, five out of 14 cookies making a whole grain claim did not even contain flour or whole grain flour in their formulation. A further six had more refined flour than whole grain flour while three did not contain flour as a main ingredient.

Ana Paula Bortoletto, IDEC nutritionist and research coordinator, said at the time: "As there is no specific legislation, the industry has carte blanche to claim that ultra-processed products are whole grain even when they do not have any type of whole grain, as observed in five evaluated cookies.”

In the US, 100% of the grain kernel’s original bran, germ, and endosperm must be present in their original proportions for an ingredient to count as whole grain.

In Europe, according to the HealthGrain definition, manufacturers may remove up to 2% of the grain’s outer bran layer, which contains the fewest nutrients and can also carry traces of pesticides and mycotoxins.

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