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Fight Brews Over Gluten-free Beer Standards

Celiac.com 07/18/2013 - If you brew a bunch of beer using traditional wheat and barley, then add enzymes to break down gluten proteins so that the final product tests negative for gluten, is the beer actually gluten-free? Should it be labeled as gluten-free?

Photo: CC--Andrew-HydeMany brewmasters, and some with celiac disease say 'yes.' Others, including government regulators say 'no.'

That's the root of the big fight brewing between Oregon brewmasters at Craft Brew Alliance and U.S. government regulators over what kinds of beer can and cannot be labeled gluten-free.

On the one hand, numerous brewmasters are now brewing beer with traditional barley, and then using an enzymatic process to break down the gluten proteins so that the final product has no detectable levels of gluten.

Some regulators, and some gluten-free beer drinkers accept this approach, some do not. The U.S. government does not, and federal alcohol regulators have barred Craft Brew from calling Omission "gluten-free" outside Oregon. Currently, Craft Brew Alliance can label their Omission beers as 'gluten-free' only in Oregon, Canada, and Denmark.

However, the regulators have said that the company can label their product as 'gluten-removed,' rather than gluten-free.'

U.S. regulators argue that labeling beers made with wheat and/or barley as 'gluten-free' is likely to mislead consumers. They also add concerns about the small fragments of gluten that do remain in the final product. There simply isn't enough evidence to show that these beers are safe for people with celiac disease in the same way that beers made from gluten-free ingredients are safe.

Recent tests by Canada's public health agency did show gluten fragments in beers from Spain and Belgium that use a gluten-removal process similar to the one used by Craft Brew for Omission beers. It's unclear whether the fragments are a health concern, Health Canada spokeswoman Blossom Leung said via email.

In fact, some gluten-free individuals have had reactions that they attribute to such beers, though others have not. Could this be a sensitivity to the broken-down fragments of gluten protein? That important question remains unanswered.

In the U.S., all sides are currently awaiting new rules by the FDA, which should provide labeling guidance for such cases.

Since 2007, the FDA has considered allowing foods with less than 20 parts per million of gluten to be labeled "gluten-free." But its final proposal, now under review by the OMB, would prohibit such labeling on foods where no valid test exists to determine safety.

Under such a rule, beers like Omission could not be labeled as 'gluten-free,' but could be labels as 'gluten-removed.' Craft Beers calls that part of the prospective rule "unnecessarily rigid."

What do you think? Have you tried these kinds of beers? Do you support labeling them gluten-free, or should they be labeled 'gluten-removed?' Do we need to know more about possible adverse effects from these kinds of beers before we can say for sure?

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44 Responses:

 
Tony
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said this on
18 Jul 2013 7:11:14 AM PST
I drink Omission, and there is a "test results" baby number on each bottle. I can use this code on their website to view a report for the batch of beer I purchased. Supposedly this is done by a third party lab. Are you telling me their testing is bogus?

 
Igliashon
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said this on
19 Jul 2013 11:19:36 AM PST
The test is only legitimate in theory; no clinical studies have been done to show that Omission is actually safe. It's the same deal as GMOs--they're safe in theory, but no studies have been done to test whether or not the theory reflects reality.

 
Isaac
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said this on
19 Jul 2013 11:29:50 AM PST
Tony -
The issue is that the enzyme process breaks down the gluten into pieces. The ELISA test will only detect whole gluten proteins and not protein fragments.

So while Omission may beat the test, there are still fragments of the gluten protein floating around in the beer. Some people may still react to these fragments, or they may not... no science has been done yet. The only way to know for sure would be to do biopsies on patients who have only had the beer without any other sources of gluten.

Remember, many Celiacs can be reacting and damaging their intestines without obvious symptoms. I have known I had celiac for 20+ years and in my late teens/twenties it would take a serious gluten poisoning for me to experience noticeable symptoms. Now that I am in my 30's I am much more sensitive.

 
Gryphon
( Author)
said this on
23 Jul 2013 3:12:02 PM PST
Not true - the competitive R5 ELISA is specifically designed to detect singular epitopes (gluten fragments). You're referring to limitations of the sandwich R5 ELISA, which is not what Omission uses for batch testing.

 
Cait
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said this on
18 Jul 2013 10:02:41 AM PST
I tried the Omissin pale ale at a restaurant here in Oregon last night and woke up with a disproportionately severe headache. (My gluten intolerance manifests itself mostly in migraines, fatigue, and intestinal distress.) I would say I was definitely affected in some part by the remaining gluten.

 
KB105
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said this on
13 Sep 2013 6:26:50 AM PST
Cait - I have the same problem and same physical response to gluten. I recently bought a six-pack of Omission. It tasted pretty good, but had migraine that night. I thought it was due to other factors. But then the next night I had another bottle and had another migraine.

 
Chris Miller
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said this on
18 Jul 2013 10:41:59 AM PST
As a celiac for over 30 years, I am incensed by the tactic of this beer company. There has been a lot of progress in gluten-free labeling - this is a horrible step back. I will never buy another product from Craft Beers, as I clearly can't trust them to respect my disease. It isn't the same as labeling "trans-fat free" or some nonsense like that - this corporate lying/partial truth telling could severely affect people's health - and with improper labeling celiacs would be able to figure out where it was coming from (as it said "gluten-free").

 
J.L.
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said this on
18 Jul 2013 12:57:34 PM PST
My husband did have a gluten reaction to the Omission beer..."gluten removed" allows us to decide for ourselves based on our individual sensitivity!

 
Joe
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said this on
18 Jul 2013 4:00:53 PM PST
I tried Omission beer and had an immediate reaction. I don't normally react to slight cross contamination, but this beer did cause a reaction.

 
Kat
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said this on
19 Jul 2013 7:10:42 AM PST
My father used to get a migraine when he drank beer, so he stopped. I don't recall him having any problems with any gluten but it was 25 years ago. I would be curious to know what other reactions people are having to Omission. Celiac for 12 years here, officially, but I think since I was perhaps 12.
I thought for awhile I had a reaction to bourbon, joint pain and a weird itchy, itchy rash on the same ankle. It went away in a week, and I've tried some bourbon that they test but don't mark because of the cost to label gluten-free. No problems. So I'd like to try Omission beers.

 
Jake Oldenburg
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said this on
19 Jul 2013 11:09:25 AM PST
I'm glad more people are becoming aware of this attempt by Omission to dilute the meaning of gluten-free labeling. It's infuriating to see how often their beers are intentionally marketed, if not necessarily labeled (yet) as gluten-free, when it's becoming clear that the gluten fragments their process leaves behind are enough to make people sick. Let's hope that OMB rules the right way. It's hard enough for people with celiac without having to worry about misleading labeling standards.

 
Igliashon
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said this on
19 Jul 2013 11:30:21 AM PST
Glad the FDA is standing up to the mega-bucks of CBA, who are trying to market an untested product as being safe. The only thing omitted from Omission is the truth about its potential to cause harm! Without clinical evidence that demonstrates Omission's safety to all gluten-intolerant, they should not be able to label it as gluten-free.

Personally, I've had reactions to the pale ale, and I won't touch the stuff.

 
Matt
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said this on
20 Jul 2013 4:19:37 AM PST
I agree with J.L. that everyone needs to consider their own sensitivity. I am not suspicious of Craft Beers intentions, and I do not think they are trying to use tricky advertising to hurt anyone. I think it helps for context to understand that the brewmaster at Widmer Brothers created Omission because both his wife and another brewmaster at Widmer Brothers are gluten-intolerant. Oregon Live had a great article about it.

I do wish we had a science-based standard for people with Celiac. Something like "<20 ppm is okay for gluten intolerance but Celiacs must have <2 ppm to be safe." I hope we will get there someday.

 
Profa40
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said this on
20 Jul 2013 3:54:11 PM PST
Bought Omission, drank one bottle, had a reaction. Returned the rest of the 6 pack. I vote "gluten removed." I don't need a guessing game when it comes to my health.

 
Denise
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said this on
21 Jul 2013 2:37:08 AM PST
Great article!!! I believe that if it contains or MADE with any form of gluten, that product should "never" be permitted the label usage of gluten-free. I like the idea of gluten removed, that tells exactly what it is. Using the words gluten-free should mean that - it is a sign that people with celiac disease (and others on gluten-free diet) can keep their disease or symptoms in remission. This beer company seems to be fighting for "sales" not for quality of life for those with celiac. Bottom line is - it will never be gluten free in my eyes if it begins with gluten in the first place, we are only asking for trouble if that passes. It's hard enough to read labels - we don't need to worry about that!!!

 
sc'Que?
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 3:09:39 AM PST
It really just makes no sense to me why Omission would want to fight this one. Gluten-removed could just as easily have a recognized status in the craft beer (and food) world. But you'll never get there by deceiving (or even sweet-talking) your customers. As J.L. said above, each consumer should be given the tools to make this decision on their own!

 
Bev Anderson
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 4:58:28 AM PST
I agree with J. L. that the beer should not be labeled gluten-free but I question if 'gluten removed' is the way to go, since breaking down protein isn't the same to me as taking the gluten proteins out. Too many unanswered questions. We who have celiac disease are dealing with an allergy to gluten. The FDA took a giant step forward when labeling allergens became law. I believe minute amounts of gluten can cause a reaction, so I do everything to avoid it. Let's not make it harder for people to identify products which may cause them harm.

 
maris
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 7:49:14 AM PST
Why would Craft Beers call the part of the prospective rule that would require them to label their beer as gluten-removed "unnecessarily rigid"? It sounds to me like they are more worried about marketing their beer than about safely communicating to folks who are truly gluten intolerant or gluten allergic. If they really care about people, I can't imagine why they would have any problem at all with distinguishing between gluten-removed and gluten-free.

 
DMV
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 8:29:12 AM PST
I have been occasionally enjoying Daura, a beer imported from Spain. Recently the large gluten-free specialty store that I go to locally informed me it is a gluten removed beer. The store had testing done and they assured me it was gluten-free. I hope it is, I hate the sorghum alternatives. I do get quite a buzz with one bottle, possibly there is a diffuse effect for me, but no GI, headache, or joint pain.

 
Helen
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 9:41:28 AM PST
I have had Omission beer - both varieties - multiple times. I enjoy the taste as superior to most gluten-free beers, especially the big manufacturer beers. I am diagnosed celiac, but have been gluten-free since 2001. I would suggest that sensitivity is an individual matter. I like having the choice and would hope that this choice that works for me will always be available.
Keep in mind that even naturally gluten-free products may be gluten contaminated if not processed in a gluten-free environment. Every time you add a new product to your diet you have to be careful that it is the only new item. Then you can be sure what it is what you are reacting to - or hopefully not reacting to.

 
Laura
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 12:15:23 PM PST
I am a diagnosed celiac and I have never had a problem with Omission. I always check the batch number in the grocery store before I purchase and I have never gotten a PPM number greater than 11. However, I understand that we all have different thresholds for a reaction and I don't think the product should be marked "Gluten Free" if people are having reactions to it.

 
Jared M.
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 12:28:04 PM PST
Well, clearly some of you still have a little to learn about being a celiac. If you didn't take the time to look into the company and how it brews the beer, then shame on you. It was very widely reported that this beer is brewed from barley just like Estrella Damm Daura.

When I first heard of Omission, I did my homework. I went to their website and read about the process. I knew full well what I was getting into when I tried the beer. Luckily for me, I'm one of the celiacs that doesn't have a reaction to the beer. So I will continue to drink it no matter how it is labeled.

I also found on their website that they do not market it as gluten-free in the U.S. So I'm perplexed as to why someone would call them a corporate liar. And one other very important thing I want to point out from my investigation of Omission: The brewmaster's wife is a celiac!!! Why would he be using "tactics" to deceive people with the same illness as his wife?

I'm going to guess here that you found the beer on a gluten-free shelf at a store. Well, that grocer is who lied to you, not Craft Brew Alliance. You should direct your anger at that wonderfully responsible corporation, Whole Foods Market - a company with a very long laundry list of deceitful tactics.

 
Brian
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 12:54:31 PM PST
My wife tried the Prairie Path beer from Two Brothers in Illinois. It's a very good beer and is labeled as "Crafted to Remove Gluten." They have a big article on their website that talks about the testing that was done to certify the low levels of gluten even though it is made with barley. Unfortunately, the beer did not make her feel well. The first time she had it a headache developed, but it was unclear whether it was the beer or cross contamination at the restaurant. We bought the beer at home (since she liked it so much), and the headache occurred a second time along with nausea, her surefire gluten symptoms.

And so we are definitely in favor of the government preventing these breweries from labeling their product as "gluten-free". Though the currently available tests may not show the gluten, it apparently can still cause issues for celiacs.

 
Uncle Bruce
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 1:01:04 PM PST
Parts per Million. So one Omission gives you, say, 10ppm. What does three beers then give you? 30 parts, diluted in three volumes of beer. Parts is parts. Enough parts, and we have celiac distress.

 
Gryphon
( Author)
said this on
22 Jul 2013 4:32:50 PM PST
Yes, but a stomach can only hold so much - the point of the 20ppm standard is that at this level, you couldn't realistically get enough gluten in your system at one time to cause any kind of reaction. In the case of this beer, you'd probably die from alcohol poisoning before you'd get a significant amount of gluten in your system.

 
joan
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 2:34:59 PM PST
I love Omission's pale ale and drink it often. My gluten intolerant friend has a reaction to it, so he sticks to rum and others if he's looking to drink alcohol. Neither of us are diagnosed celiac. However, I do think there are a lot of people who think they have gluten sensitivity or intolerance when really their main sensitivity might be something like yeast.

 
Cindy
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 4:08:36 PM PST
I drank Omission beer all weekend without any reaction whatsoever. I do not understand the difference in labeling when as mentioned in your article the government and most of Europe labels gluten-free when it has less than 20pp million and this is accepted everywhere in Europe which has a much higher population than the US. Also, we now know that the distilling process removes gluten from whiskey etc. which makes it acceptable for celiacs. No it is not labeled gluten-free, however, I do not believe that Craft Beers is trying to pull a "fast one" as one of the previous writers suggested. The CEO of the company is celiac, so you don't think he has a concern? I personally am excited to have new choices and if it meets the standards, label it as such. The company is open to feedback and questions at glutenfreeterry@omissionbeer.com.

 
Bill
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said this on
22 Jul 2013 4:51:46 PM PST
I drink both their Pale Ale and Lager and have had no reaction; usually I'm very sensitive to gluten contamination. I've had a reaction to Dura, the Spanish pilsner, I was disappointed cause it tasted great.

I believe everyone has different levels of sensitivity, i.e. some can go 40ppm and others less than 2ppm, so it's really a crap shoot. I found New Planet's Pale Ale to be the best tasting gluten-free beer currently available; most celiacs should be able to drink this worry free.

 
Jasmine
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said this on
23 Jul 2013 12:20:42 AM PST
I have never had a gluten reaction to drinking Omission beer, nor has a friend who is also gluten intolerant (and has more obvious symptoms) when he has inadvertently ingested gluten. Call it gluten removed so as not to confuse the concerned, but we are convinced this beer is not a problem for the gluten intolerant.

 
Aspen
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said this on
23 Jul 2013 1:33:04 AM PST
I agree it is all in an individual's tolerance as to what is "good" or "bad." I have to say I was specifically told by a sales rep in a non-major alcohol store that Omission was gluten-free. So I would have to agree with others, the deception does not fall on the company making the item, but on the company SELLING the item. I have tried just about any "gluten-free" advertised beer, and there is one Omission I have physical reactions to and then the other I do not...

 
Debbie Sadel
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said this on
23 Jul 2013 2:42:15 AM PST
I like Omission, drink it on a regular basis, and have never had a reaction to it. Since I believe in truth in labeling, however, calling it "Gluten Removed" makes sense to me. Let the consumer decide.

 
Erwin
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said this on
23 Jul 2013 2:51:43 AM PST
I tried Omission Pale Ale- it was delicious. I had 2 bottles, But I paid for it later on. I will not drink this beer any more. At least with Red Bridge I know I am safe!

 
debbie
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said this on
23 Jul 2013 6:36:38 AM PST
What about other "gluten free" beers like Red Bridge?

 
Sharon Kees
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said this on
23 Jul 2013 7:59:54 AM PST
To me it's a no-brainer. As a nurse, I strongly believe in informed consent. Some may be able to drink it while others cannot. I am a very sensitive celiac so i will not be chancing it, but i appreciate having the information to make the decision. I can't conceive why anyone would insist on gluten free labeling as opposed to gluten removed.

 
Michelle
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said this on
23 Jul 2013 12:35:40 PM PST
"Gluten removed," anything else would be irresponsible. While it is a delicious alternative to the mostly unpalatable sorghum based beers, I am an extremely sensitive diagnosed celiac and had a relatively fierce reaction to it. I did not know that Omission was a gluten removed beer when my husband purchased it as it was marketed to him as a gluten-free beer, but the reaction the next day helped to clear up that misconception. Life's about choices. Label it gluten removed and let folks make the informed choice.

 
Timothy Morizot
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said this on
24 Jul 2013 1:51:44 PM PST
A celiac's acute reaction to gluten varies widely. Moreover, the acute reactions, if any, are a matter of temporary discomfort (sometimes severe). Many of those with celiac disease have minor or no acute symptoms. Apparently, even many of those with celiac writing above are unaware of that fact. (I've become more sensitive, but not horribly so. My kids have little to no acute reaction.)

As the article indicates, the only proof would be studies performing blood tests to detect auto-antibodies and biopsies to detect small intestine inflammation. It's an autoimmune disease and the long-term consequences are severe even if acute symptoms are negligible. I learned that the hard way before being diagnosed.

So I err on the side of caution.

 
Sarah
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said this on
25 Jul 2013 3:54:14 PM PST
Informative article. I don't necessarily agree with the terms "gluten removed" because it has not been removed; it's been changed. I think they should use a term such as "gluten modified" or "contains modified gluten" instead. I believe that is more accurate for the consumer.

 
Peter Olins, PhD
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said this on
25 Jul 2013 7:11:00 PM PST
The new gluten assay used by Omission Beer may give a signal, but it does not generate a meaningful number that can be compared with the familiar "less than 20 ppm" number obtained with the conventional assay used for gluten-free foods. Any new assay would need to be validated with a biological/clinical safety study in order to give a meaningful result.

 
Sharon

said this on
26 Jul 2013 7:18:55 AM PST
Honestly, this is a really bad issue for anyone with gluten sensitivity but especially those with severe issues, and (of course) foremost for the celiac folks. I also think Estrella Damm Daura (like Omission) starts with barley then removes the gluten through some process. I am not a beer drinker but my husband is and he is also gluten-free - and stays away from these mainly because of my experience with supposed gluten-free liquors, like scotch whiskey, that even celiac "experts" claim is gluten-free due to the distillation process, yet my two times trying this I had a reaction... and the corn-based ones are just gross! The Elisa standard test - used by one seaweed snack manufacturer - noted (they posted the actual document from the lab) no gliadins... what about the other toxic prolamins - glutenins? Is the test not testing for these prolamins??? Sorry, anything that starts with a known gluten grain is off my list - and in terms of seaweed and carrageenan (made from seaweed), and MSG (originally made from seaweed) are the only things that I and so many CD and GS folks react to... so I still wonder if the wheat of the ocean has the amino acid sequence of the gluten proteins. If I can ever find this answer - I will let you know.

 
Peter Olins, PhD
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said this on
29 Jul 2013 5:09:23 PM PST
We all care about symptoms, but they are a poo indication of what is happening in the gut, so "no symptoms" does not mean "no problem."

Secondly, given that people have different peptide sequences recognized by their immune systems, I would predict that a food/beer that is a problem for one person might be fine for another.

 
Ashley
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said this on
24 Aug 2013 2:33:30 PM PST
Just tried Omission and ended up with a horrible stomach ache and brain fog. Figured I'd at least try it since I cannot stomach Red Bridge, but looks like I'll be sticking to wine for a while.

 
Crystal
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said this on
26 Aug 2013 1:21:53 PM PST
I drank an Omission Pale Ale and had a negative reaction. It tastes wonderful, but the side effects for me are not worth the taste. I was very disappointed as I thought this would be a beer I could drink. With this being said, I wish that it had not been and will no longer be labeled as being gluten-free.

 
steve
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said this on
14 Nov 2013 4:55:13 PM PST
Gluten causes bad symptoms and cancer, so why take the chance ? My god people...

 
Anna Anderson
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said this on
14 Jul 2014 2:47:59 AM PST
Omission is a nice tasting change from Redbridge but there is this: I was told it was gluten free by a friend who then poured me one in a glass. The next morning my joints were inflamed and aching (my mild reaction to gluten - my severe reaction is DH outbreak). I couldn't figure out what had caused it. Long story short, I bought Omission and notice every time I drink it I get joint issues. I can't speak for numbers and data but I can speak for my own body and my own body tells me its not gluten free.




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