USDA should keep grains including enriched rice at the base of the Food Guide Pyramid, and should retain the current well-known pyramid graphic in its new Food Guidance System, USA Rice Federation testified at a public meeting in Washington, D.C. The meeting was called by USDA to hear comments on proposed revisions to the government's visual symbol for dietary guidance.

“Since 80 percent of Americans recognize the current pyramid, USDA should keep the present graphic and focus instead on helping consumers learn how to make better use of the recommendations in their daily diets. In addition, the pyramid shape accurately depicts the dietary intake patterns and messages of variety, proportion, and moderation recommended by the Dietary Guidelines and should be maintained,” the industry testified. Current guidelines call for 45 percent to 65 percent of daily calories to come from carbohydrates, including grains, fruits and vegetables.

Other points included:

  • While the industry supports the goal of increasing whole grain consumption, enriched grains, which are a key source of the B vitamins including folate, play a major role in healthy eating and disease prevention and should continue to be emphasized. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control have shown a link between folate and a decrease in birth defects and reduction in risk factors for heart disease.

  • The rice industry strongly disagrees with an apparent bias by a scientific committee reviewing the Dietary Guidelines against any grain foods except whole grains, and expressed concern that the dramatic decline in birth defects could be lost if folate-enriched grains are no longer recommended.

  • Enriched and whole grains should be depicted together in the grain category. Separating enriched from whole grains in a new graphic would be confusing to consumers and could imply that enriched grains are not recommended.

“Providing testimony at USDA's meeting reflects the increased emphasis USA Rice has placed on involvement in food policy activities during the past year,” said Charles Trahan of Crowley, La., chairman of the federation's domestic promotion committee. “We are actively bringing forward important information to the government in order to influence decisions about new dietary guidance because of the potential impact on rice consumption,” he said.

USDA will test various graphic images and messages in focus groups with consumers this fall. A new Food Guidance System incorporating revised Dietary Guidelines and containing the graphic will be made public early in 2005.