Friday, August 2, 2013

FDA Gluten-Free Labeling Has Passed!

It seems crazy that just the other day, I was talking about the proposed FDA ruling for defining "gluten-free" for food labeling. I say that because the FDA finally ruled.... today.

You can read the FDA article here. In short, they are requiring that the product be free of wheat, barley, and rye (but not oats), and be able to test under 20ppm gluten. (ppm stands for parts per million and seems to be the most common standard worldwide)

I knew what they were planning, but I am still a little bit disappointed. Not for the same reason as it seems everyone else is upset though (I'll talk about that later). I would really prefer that manufacturers be required to disclose all forms of gluten on ingredient labels the same way they're required to disclose wheat and the other top 8 allergens. Why you ask? Because if that way all gluten-free products would be easy to find.

This new labeling law only pertains to those companies that want to state "gluten-free" on their products. According to the FDA, companies have until August 5, 2014 to ensure no products are mislabeled according to the guidelines. My fear is that many companies will worry that they aren't following the guidelines correctly, and they will remove "gluten-free" from their labels. When that happens, there will be no way to tell if the product is gluten-free besides calling the manufacturer to see if they will clearly label all forms of gluten or find another product.

The most common complaint I'm hearing is that others feel the 20ppm guideline is far too high. I see the point in that, but it seems there is a misconception that a 20ppm limit magically causes all products that state gluten-free on the label to have that amount of gluten in them. 20ppm is the limit people. It's kind of like a speed limit. If the speed limit is 55mph, that doesn't mean everyone is going to travel that speed. It doesn't force you to travel that speed. Some people will travel 45mph, and others will travel 65mph. For the purposes of my example, those traveling 65mph will receive a ticket. Those traveling 45mph will be ignored. Translate that to this gluten-free guideline, and any product containing 20ppm gluten and UNDER can be labeled gluten-free.  Any product containing over 20ppm is in violation with the FDA and subject to regulatory action if they state gluten-free on the label.

Hopefully I'm not completely wrong, but my assumption is that the majority of products bearing the gluten-free claim actually contain 0ppm gluten. If the product is carefully grown away from gluten, and then manufactured in a dedicated gluten-free facility, it is highly unlikely that a new FDA standard will magically cause that product to now contain ANY gluten.

If I play devil's advocate, I will admit that I completely understand the worry that 20ppm is too high for some people. For all I know, it is too high for me, but if I switch from devil's advocate back to reality (I hope this is the reality anyway), most companies are not going to clean their equipment and manufacture their product in hopes that they can make it just under the 20ppm threshold--they are going to manufacture with the intent of the product containing 0ppm gluten.

I'm incredibly careful about what I consume, and I always worry that something could be cross contaminated. I completely understand the worry about this threshold being too high, but I guess I'm just over all the complaining that makes the assumption that this new ruling will CAUSE products to contain gluten that they did not previously contain.

Someone please raise a debate with me if you disagree about how this whole thing will play out because I yearn to understand why people suddenly seem so... well, I'll let you insert your own adjective there. ;)  If you really want to raise a stink about the amount of gluten, why don't you go google the FDA standard for the threshold for rat feces in our food. Totally not the same thing, but ya know, I had to go there.

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