Gluten-Free Labeling: FDA Issues New Rules On Which Foods Qualify

By iScienceTimes Staff on August 2, 2013 5:17 PM EDT

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Gluten-free labeling standards have been announced by the FDA. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Food and Drug Administration has defined how much gluten food can contain for it to carry labels that read "gluten-free," helping millions of consumers who suffer from celiac disease or wheat protein sensitivities.

Since 2007, the FDA has been trying to sort out what exactly "gluten-free" means, and they've finally arrived at the new federal definition: foods that contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten can be declared gluten free. The FDA says that that's the lowest number that can be consistently detected in foods using the best scientific equipment, and that anything below 20 parts per million is very unlikely to affect celiac sufferers anyway.

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Until now, foods that carried gluten-free were defined that way by their manufacturers. Now, they'll have to follow the FDA's gluten-free definition to call themselves such.

"This standard 'gluten-free' definition will eliminate uncertainty about how food producers label their products and will assure people with celiac disease that foods labeled 'gluten-free' meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA," said Michael R. Taylor, deputy FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, in a press release.

As Andrea Levario, executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance, noted, there is no cure for celiac disease other than not eating gluten, so consistent gluten-free labeling is especially important.

"This is a tool that has been desperately needed," Levario said. "It keeps food safe for this population, gives them the tools they need to manage their health, and obviously has long-term benefits for them."

Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition, causes a person's body to react to gluten as though it were an allergen. The result is damage to the small intestine, with symptoms ranging from abdominal pain and diarrhea to weight loss and migraines. About one percent of people have celiac disease; the FDA estimates about 3 million americans suffer from it.

In addition the new 20 parts-per-million rule in gluten-free labeling, the FDA announced in their press release that they'll allow foods to be labeled gluten-free if the food doesn't contain any of the following:

1. an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
2. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
3. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten

The FDA said that things such as bottled water can now be labelled gluten-free, if that is for some reason something a water company would like to do.

The new FDA gluten-free labeling guidelines are "a big deal," said CBS News chief medical correspondent Jon LaPook.

"Patients with celiac disease can get ill from even a little bit of gluten," said LaPook. "On top of limiting their diets, they've had to worry that some foods labeled gluten-free actually have tiny amounts of it." He added, "This new regulation should give them peace of mind and peace of gut."

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