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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Australian Celiacs Face Industry Push to Allow Gluten in 'Gluten-free' Foods

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 07/09/2013 - In Australia, and New Zealand, people with celiac disease currently benefit from regulations that require food sold as "gluten-free" to contain no detectable levels of gluten.

    Photo: CC--VintuitiveHowever, that may be set to change, as Australian food manufacturers and retailers push the government agency that regulates gluten-free food to allow gluten to be included in foods labeled ''gluten-free.''

    That agency, called Food Standards Australia New Zealand, is facing pressure by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), which wants foods sold as "gluten-free" to be able to contain up to 20 milligrams of gluten per kilogram, thus bringing Australia in line with British and European standards.

    The push by AFGC for a new gluten limit has drawn little praise from dietitians, who say Australians with celiac disease and an associated condition, dermatitis herpetiformis, rely on gluten-free foods.

    Now, while the Australian standard of "no detectable gluten" in foods sold as "gluten-free" may sound great in theory, it is not without problems.

    The standard of "no detectable gluten" means that acceptable gluten-levels will be pushed ever lower as newer, more sensitive tests become available. And such tests are now becoming more sensitive all the time.

    Dr Sue Shepherd, a dietitian specializing in food intolerance and gastrointestinal nutrition, says that Australia must rethink its current rule precisely because tests are growing so sensitive that foods currently meeting the ''undetectable gluten'' standard might soon fail to meet standards.

    Under the Australian/New Zealand standard, many foods from EU and the United States are currently not permitted, and any that might meet current standards face the same problem: future standards may disqualify currently acceptable products.

    Also, having changing standards and changing products that meet that standard is confusing for shoppers and grocery retailers.

    Others worry that changing the current rule will allow unfair competition from imported products. Many of those imported "gluten-free" products are cheaper, in part because lower standards mean higher acceptable gluten levels and lower cost.

    Michael Bracka, chief executive of Freedom Foods and former boss of Kellogg Australia, opposes weakening gluten content standards for gluten-free foods.

    Bracka fears that weakening standards could result in cheap imports flood Australian shelves and damaging what is currently a very successful local industry. Moreover, he adds, the changes proposed by AFGC are "misleading to consumers."

    A spokeswoman for Food Standards said that the agency is working with AFGC on its application and that it intends to consult all stakeholders.

    What do you think? Should the standard for gluten-free foods be "no detectable gluten?" What does that mean for food producers? For consumers? For prices? Share your comments below.

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    I have celiac disease, and have gluten reactions to many products in the US that have the gluten-free label. The companies claim that their products have no more then 20 ppm. However, the US FDA has never made any ruling about what gluten-free on a label actually means. If I eat something gluten-free that 'supposedly' contains less then 20 ppm, and react to it, then trace amounts of gluten makes me sick. And I need products with 'no' gluten at all. Companies are out to make a profit, and don't really give a darn about celiacs, as long as they can sell their products. It's all about their money, not our health.

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    I have to agree with DJ. I react to many supposedly gluten-free foods. If I were the Australians, I wouldn't mess with a good thing. I wish the goal for gluten-free food was always zero gluten. If 20ppm is considered safe, does that mean per serving? What if you eat a packaged food that contains two servings? What if several things you eat during the day have 20ppm gluten? There are all kinds of opportunities to get too much gluten.

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    As an Australian and mother of a sensitive coeliac, this concerns me as it does many other Australians! Google "gluten free petition Australia" - there are over 19,000 people that have signed that they disagree.

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    They have it backwards!!! Australia and New Zealand should be encouraging the US to change to their standards. Yes, DJ they don't care about our health, it's all about the profit for them. I can detect a minute amount of gluten, probably due to the permanent damage to my GI tract, due to the 40+ years of being sick before someone finally diagnosed me. Australia, the US doesn't know what they're doing, why would you listen to them? I buy Australian products whenever I can because of their standards, please, I beg of you, do NOT change!!!

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    I live in Australia, but before that I lived in the UK where there is a much broader range of gluten-free products available. The 20 ppm rule presents no risk to coeliacs, who undoubtedly benefit from a global free trade of gluten-free goods to make a much broader range of choices available.

    For this reason, standardizing internationally would be a great idea - especially if it means we can start to get codex wheat starch, which is a fantastic gluten-free product.

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    I am a celiac and despite a strict gluten-free diet still have issues, mainly with cross-contamination. Could you please tell me which supposedly gluten-free products specifically you have reactions to? Thanks!

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    I agree! No gluten should mean NO gluten! I also am very sensitive and need to rely on labeling to mean what it says. Maybe we need for the gluten content to be listed by ppm on all packages so there is no misunderstanding, regardless of what country you are in.

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    Sue Shepherd has a point regarding the level changing downwards with better testing. Surely that can be satisfied by setting the standard at whatever the detectable level is now (in Australia) as that doesn't seem to be causing a problem. I too have problems with the 'standard' in the US when I visit.

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    Absolutely agreed! We have had problems with sausage and seaweed labeled gluten-free. I'm guessing the seaweed was a problem because of sharing the equipment with soy sauce-containing varieties. The sausage may have been gluten-free when they designed the packaging, then the manufacturer didn't keep up with changes in their spices/spice providers. Plenty of products do not contain gluten. It would be nice if the label were preserved for those products.

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    I live in Australia, but before that I lived in the UK where there is a much broader range of gluten-free products available. The 20 ppm rule presents no risk to coeliacs, who undoubtedly benefit from a global free trade of gluten-free goods to make a much broader range of choices available.

    For this reason, standardizing internationally would be a great idea - especially if it means we can start to get codex wheat starch, which is a fantastic gluten-free product.

    I too live in Australia and was horrified when I first heard this news. However, I've since changed my view having heard from my State Coeliac Society that it is supporting this move. I quote from its newsletter last month:

    "This standard applies in the UK, Europe and Canada and is soon to be adopted in the USA.

    Coeliac Australia supports a change to a gluten free standard of less than 20ppm. Evidence based medical research has found this to be a safe level for people with coeliac disease.

    A gluten free standard of less than 20ppm would result in more choice and affordability in the gluten free food market. The high cost of gluten free food is a significant barrier to compliance with the gluten free diet, for people with coeliac disease.

    Coeliac Australia currently endorses food products that contain less than 20ppm of gluten. The change proposed by the AFGC is consistent with Coeliac Australia's position on the safe level of gluten in manufactured foods."

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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