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Old Thu, Jan-22-04, 17:53
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gotbeer gotbeer is offline
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Default "Low-carb industry seeks credibility amid growth"

Low-carb industry seeks credibility amid growth

Reuters, 01.22.04, 5:55 PM ET

By Deborah Cohen

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DENVER (Reuters) - Pioneers in low-carbohydrate foods are scrambling to bring credibility to an exploding industry facing increased criticism from health professionals, regulators and consumers questioning the safety of foods claiming to fit the low-carb mold.

With everyone from large-scale food makers such as Unilever Plc to growing numbers of niche players jumping on the bandwagon, concern over uniform standards for how products are labeled and sold was a top priority at a conference for the low-carb industry in Denver, Colorado, on Thursday.

"I would like to see this industry come out with some really truthful labeling," Anne Horner, a Stone Mountain, Georgia-based distributor of low-carb and natural foods, told Reuters. "The standards to meet the labels must be very exacting."

About 3.6 percent of the U.S. population is now following some form of a diet high in proteins such as meat and chicken but limited in carbohydrates like bread and pasta, according to NPD Group, a market research firm tracking food trends, whose data surveyed people through August.

Horner, one of more than 400 corporate attendees at the conference, is working with an industry trade group representing natural food makers, the National Nutritional Foods Association, to set up labeling standards so the public can discern the many types of foods -- including fiber and sugars -- that qualify as carbohydrates.

There is wide disparity among the quality of so-called low-carb foods and their claims, industry experts said. And as their popularity grows, diets like the one made popular by Dr. Robert Atkins, known as the Atkins diet, have faced increased scrutiny for touting high-fat foods and ample quantities of red meat, eggs and cheese that have been linked to high cholesterol rates.

In November, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit group, warned against the Atkins diet, citing risks associated with ingesting high levels of animal protein.

Horner's group hopes to present labeling standards to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which currently does not regulate low-carb claims, by the spring, she said., the online newsletter that coordinated the Denver conference, is working separately to create an independent group that will also provide oversight.

The group, dubbed the Low Carb Consumers League, will include consumers, manufacturers and a board that includes well-known health experts, said Dean Rotbart, LowCarbiz's executive editor.

"I believe that the FDA is more likely to listen to the voice of several hundred thousand consumers," Rotbart said.

Low-carb experts claim much of the health criticism stems from taking their diets to extremes. They want to push ahead with research that will educate the public about the benefits of low-carb eating, including weight loss.

"Science is on our side, and we have to be out there talking about it," Fred Pescatore, M.D., an expert on low-carb diets and the author of several books on the topic, said at the conference. "It's not a gimmick diet; that's what we have to move away from."

Panel discussions dealing with risk, regulatory and legal issues, and truth in labeling were top picks of attendees, who sought ways to market and expand into a industry that some expect to grow from an estimated $15 billion currently to more than $25 billion in U.S. sales by the end of this year.
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