New FDA gluten rule stirs debate

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With recent national awareness of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, the food industry is introducing gluten-free items to us at breakneck speed. But how gluten-free are they?

Trying to decipher their labels at the grocery store takes time. Early on, I gathered that although something is labeled “wheat free,” it does not make it gluten-free. You have to look for other gluten ingredients in the list such as barley, brewer’s yeast, malt, soy sauce, rye and triticale.

The other day, I picked up a bag of corn chips with no gluten ingredients. The next sentence read, “made in a facility that processes wheat.” So is it gluten-free or not? My first inclination is not to buy it, but wheat is processed daily in my very own kitchen by the rest of my non-celiac family. It’s clear to me that more than a few guidelines are necessary.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration announced a regulation defining the term “gluten-free” for voluntary food labeling. This regulation sets a standard of no more than 20 parts per million of gluten for a product to be labeled gluten-free. Companies have until August to comply with the new regulation. The food products covered by the FDA gluten-free labeling rule are as follows.

• All FDA-regulated foods

• Dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids)

• Imported food products that are subject to FDA regulations

There is much controversy among the gluten-free community about the inclusion of any gluten at all in the regulation. Marilyn Geller, chief executive officer of the Celiac Disease Foundation, said in a statement that the group’s medical advisory board agrees with the FDA’s assessment “that less than 20 ppm is the threshold level of gluten that is tolerated by those with celiac disease.”

“I recognize that there are individuals who do not support the new standard,” Geller said. “I believe, however, that the FDA rule is a significant victory for our celiac and gluten-sensitive community.”

Contact Ann Byrne

at annelizabethbyrne@gmail.com

On the Web

If you are concerned about the new regulations, visit www.fda.gov for more complete information about gluten-free food labeling.