December 23, 2005

Barley Products Can Claim Heart Benefits: FDA

WASHINGTON -- Cereals, breads and other products containing whole or milled barley grain can now claim to reduce the risk of heart disease, U.S. health officials said on Friday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ruling allows companies to immediately begin advertising the benefit on their product packages, which many food makers hope will help boost consumer sales.

"Consumers can expect to see whole barley and dry milled barley products such as flakes, grits, flour, meal, and barley meal bearing the health claim," the FDA said in a statement.

To qualify, barley-containing foods must provide at least 0.75 grams of soluble fiber per serving, the agency said.

Shares of major food producers were mixed or flat in afternoon trading. The Dow Jones U.S. Food Product Makers Index .DJUSFP> was barely lower at 209.73.

Representatives for Kellogg Co. and General Mills Inc., the top two U.S. cereal makers, could not be reached for comment. Archer Daniels Midland Co., the world's largest grain processor, and ConAgra Foods Inc., also could not be reached.

Barley is a cereal grain grown mostly in the Western United States as well as in Australia, Canada and other countries, according to the National Barley Foods Council, which first petitioned the FDA for the decision in 2003.

While much of the crop is used for animal feed and beer, people can cook pearl barley as a rice-like dish. Barley flour and grains are also used in baking and in cereal.

Like other grains, barley contains fiber that health experts say can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, which can restrict blood flow and lead to chest pain and heart attacks.

About 13 million Americans are diagnosed with the condition, according to the American Heart Association.

The barely trade group, in its request, said new data showed 3 grams of barley lowered cholesterol by about 5 percent -- similar to oatmeal. The group could not be reached for comment.

Health claims on food reward "companies that make healthier products while we enforce the law against companies that appeal to consumers through false and misleading health claims," FDA Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

FDA regulations allow food manufacturers to submit data to support their petition. In the past, it has allowed health claims on products containing walnuts, tomatoes and omega 3 fatty acids.

The public may comment on the interim rule for 75 days before it becomes final.