Jefferson Adams is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. His poems, essays and photographs have appeared in Antioch Review, Blue Mesa Review, CALIBAN, Hayden's Ferry Review, Huffington Post, the Mississippi Review, and Slate among others.
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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?
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?
Many 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?