Saturday, July 27, 2013

Gluten Free Labeling Law

I'm not sure where to start on this one because it seems most people are all over the place with their knowledge of the PROPOSED gluten-free labeling law. Why did I put "proposed" in all capital letters? Because I wanted to catch your attention, and I want to alert the unaware that there currently is no labeling law regarding gluten.

At this time, the FDA requires that companies clearly disclose it if their products contain any of the "top 8 allergens." These include milk, wheat, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and soy. If you've ever heard of FALCPA otherwise known as the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, that's what this is. Although some individuals always seem to think that wheat=gluten, it does not. Gluten can also come in the form of barley, rye, and the always controversial oats. At this time, companies are not required to disclose the presence of barley, rye, or oats. Malt vinegar, which is derived from barley, could simply be listed as "vinegar."

So back to the "proposed" labeling law. Part of the FALCPA law required that the FDA establish standards for labeling products gluten-free. Many people believe that the lives of those on a gluten free diet will magically become easier when this law is passed/goes into effect. The problem with the law is right in the law itself:

In the rule, the FDA defines a product as “gluten free” if it does not contain the following: wheat, rye, barley, or any hybrid of these grains; ingredients such as wheat flour that have not been processed to remove gluten; or any item made up of more than 20 parts per million of gluten. 

So what's the problem? Did you see anywhere in that short statement that companies will be required to disclose barley and rye? No. The law only affects those companies that want to state "gluten-free" on the label. It also says nothing about oats. It will also scare more companies away from labeling their products as gluten-free.

The good news is that companies will not be able to to label their products as gluten-free if they are not because it will be against the law to do so. At this time, there is no standard, so a company can label their products gluten-free even if they're aware that they are not. It's not ethical to do so, but there is little chance of any legal action (although the gluten-free community tends to be a very strong community, and I've heard of companies going out of business for doing such things).

I think this is a huge step forward for the gluten-free community once the law goes into effect, but we still have a long way to go. I dream of a day when I can easily read an ingredient label. I don't expect companies to state the actual word "gluten" in the ingredient list, but I would like to know that I'm safe to eat something when a product contains ingredients such as vinegar, natural flavors, coloring, etc. I admire companies that will clearly disclose all gluten ingredients in ways such as "natural flavors (barley)..." and I wish all companies would do this.

What is your opinion on the proposed legislation? If you would change it, what do you wish it would say? I'd love to hear a "best-case scenario" along with a realistic scenario.

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