The FDA Issues Standards For "Gluten Free" Labeling

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The FDA Issues Standards For “Gluten Free” Labeling

Most natural food consumers understand the importance of honest and complete product ingredient labeling. Some product labels are vague, some are arguably misleading and in others you don’t know if the label actually means what it says.  Take the label “Gluten Free.”  If you read that label, you would think “Ah, there is no gluten in this product.”  But that would be technically wrong and such a mistake could be harmful if you are one the millions of people who suffer from celiac disease. 

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that is triggered by the presence of gluten, a protein that naturally occurs in wheat, rye, barley and other grains, in food products.  Essentially, celiac disease is when the body’s immune system reacts to the presence of gluten by attacking the intestinal lining in the body and subsequently creating digestive and other serious conditions. A great website, created by Scott Adams who was diagnosed with celiac disease,  with very useful information about celiac disease and the gluten free diet, is at:  www.celiac.com

According to various consumer market research companies, the gluten-free product industry was worth over $4 billion in sales last year. Finally, after more than 5 years of waiting, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this past week issued standards for gluten-free labeling. Specifically, the FDA set a limit of no more than 20 parts per million of gluten in a product to be properly labeled as gluten-free. That level is similar to standards established in Canada and in the European Union.  For an interesting discussion on the appropriateness of the FDA standards, see Lindsey Kratochwill’s article “Waiting for Gluten-Free Label Rules” which was published in 2011 regarding the public comments submitted to the FDA at: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/waiting-for-gluten-free-label-rules/#.UgOaoVNVveZ

However, there are some important details about this new standard that every gluten-free consumer should know.  First, the standards are voluntary meaning that manufacturers do not have to use the gluten-free labeling on their products.  However, if they do use the gluten-free label then they are subject to FDA sanctions for any violations.  It is generally considered that most manufacturers are already in compliance with this new standard.  The gluten-free standard doesn’t become effective until August 5, 2014.  While products with the gluten-free label cannot contain any grains containing gluten there will likely be trace amounts under the 20 parts per million standard which may still affect some people with celiac disease.  The standards do not apply to beer and alcohol. However, the FDA claims it will address this gluten-free labeling in beer in the future.

For further news reading about the FDA’s gluten-free standards:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/03/health/fda-sets-standard-for-foods-labeled-gluten-free.html?_r=0

 

Kirk Schroder / Food Advocate / foodadvocate@ellwoodthompsons.com