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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 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!

    It's easier to name the company's that don't contain any gluten in their gluten-free labeled foods. Bob's Red Mill and DeLallo.

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    Completely agree with DJ, Sue, Susie et al, Australia should keep its own standard set as it is now, then there will be no confusion with detectable amounts later. Besides, do Australians really want US food imports? I wouldn't touch them with a barge pole, they're full of dodgy additives and GMOs, no thanks.

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    Why can't they create labels that indicate the quantity, such as FDA-approved gluten-free=less than 20mg/kg, or no detectable gluten? Then consumers can decide for themselves.

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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.

    Laith, I do not understand how the greater availability of products with greater amounts of gluten is a good thing. If someone with coeliac is highly sensitive (and you are blessed to not be in this category) he will have even less options. Please do not state that, "The 20 ppm rule presents no risk to coeliacs" as this is simply not true.

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    Why can't they create labels that indicate the quantity, such as FDA-approved gluten-free=less than 20mg/kg, or no detectable gluten? Then consumers can decide for themselves.

    I come from a family where celiac disease is the norm, not the exception. Some of us react severely to the slightest crumb of gluten-containing foods and some do not. That being said, why would we want to subject our bodies to damage that after time will not reverse and cause us to be at even more risk of cancers of the bowel and other health issues? If a product says it does not contain gluten, it should not. Food processors should not remove this choice from those of us who suffer greatly from gluten ingestion.

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    If it does go to this standard everywhere I will just go on a cave man diet. Fruit Veg and meat. Naturally gluten free. Yes, I'll miss out on my treats but at least I know that I am not going to get sick. No one understands what it's like being a coeliac unless you are a coeliac yourself. A simple crumb curls me over for 24 hours and I'm tired and nauseated for the next 48.

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    Gluten episode can leave me in hospital for 5 days on a drip. It could also kill me if I don't get medical help immediately. It is also frustrating that when I arrive in Emergency dept at a hospital they have trouble believing me and it could be upwards of 12 hours before treatment is started. I become so dehydrated from lose of body fluids from what could described as horrific bowel discharge that leaves me breeding. So no I want the standards to stay, that gluten free is truly gluten free.

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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 science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. 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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