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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Canadian Celiac Association Press Release Draws Pushback from General Mills

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Each serving of Cheerios products in Canada are gluten free, as defined by the current regulatory standard of containing less than 20 ppm of gluten


    Caption: Image: CC--cchana

    Celiac.com 10/31/2017 - A press release by the Canadian Celiac Association announcing a label change for General Mills' Cheerios is drawing confusion and questions from numerous corners of the gluten-free community.

    The press release is also drawing pushback from General Mills, which called the CCA press release "inaccurate," and said it was "not based on facts."

    General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas says that "the only thing the CCA got right is that General Mills is changing its label in Canada." Everything else, Siemienas, claimed, was based on opinion, not facts.

    Siemienas added that General Mills has made efforts to work with the CCA, but that the organization "had its opinions formed" in advance, and seemed unmoved by facts.

    Regarding Cheerios, a statement by General Mills reads: 

    "Each serving of Cheerios products in Canada are gluten free, as defined by the current regulatory standard of containing less than 20 ppm of gluten. General Mills Canada has made the decision to voluntarily remove the gluten-free label from our Cheerios products in Canada until Health Canada and The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) publish a consistent testing protocol for products containing oats. At this time the product is not changing, just the label on the box. We look forward to labeling the Cheerios products in Canada as gluten free once consensus is reached on a consistent testing protocol for products containing oats."

    The full text of the original CCA press release appears below, but since this article was written: "The CCA retracts its statement of October 20, 2017 and replaces it with this statement due to errors in the original statement.":

    October 20, 2017 (Mississauga, ON) The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has made an announcement that the words "gluten-free" will be removed from all Cheerios package sold in Canada by January 1, 2018.

    The Canadian Celiac Association first objected to the claim in August 2016 and strongly recommended that people with celiac disease not consume the cereal, even though the box was labelled "gluten free".

    The announcement came in a letter addressed to a Canadian consumer who was one of many customer complaints to be filed against the products.

    "We are delighted to hear that the regulators have determined that the claim must be removed from the packages", said Melissa Secord, Executive Director of the Canadian Celiac Association. "Based on the advice of the members of our Professional Advisory Board, the experts of the Gluten-Free Certification Program, and other professionals working in the field, we believe that there is not adequate evidence to support the claim. When added to many reports from consumers with celiac disease reacting to eating the cereal, we believe this is the safe recommendation for Canadians."

    The CCA will follow up closely with the CFIA and Health Canada to continue to monitor this decision along with other products sold in Canada to ensure access to safe foods for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities.

    The CCA is currently working on a grant from Agriculture and Agrifood Canada to examine the scope of gluten contamination in oats grown in Canada, and to determine where the contamination occurs as the oats a processed (field, harvest, transport, processing). The project is scheduled to be completed in March 2018.

    Celiac disease is a medical condition in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten. This results in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health.

    Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, triticale, barley. In the case of wheat, gliadin has been isolated as the toxic fraction. It is the gluten in the flour that helps bread and other baked goods bind and prevents crumbling. This feature has made gluten widely used in the production of many processed and packaged foods.

    The Canadian Celiac Association, the national voice for people who are adversely affected by gluten, is dedicated to improving diagnosis and quality of life.


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    I think the problem with this controversy is the great ignorance of the medical and scientific community's thinking that "gliadin has been isolated as the toxic fraction." Glutenin is also toxic, and Columbia University's Celiac Research Center has identified five more categories of wheat proteins that are toxic to celiac patients. Gliadin is paired with a carbohydrate in the endosperm of wheat, which is in the interior of the “berriesâ€. However, all that rolling around and rubbing the oats with the wheat and barley, shedding exterior proteins before they are removed, surely exposes the consumers of Cheerios to more wheat toxins than are indicated by the percentage of Gluten in the product.

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    I think the problem with this controversy is the great ignorance of the medical and scientific community's thinking that "gliadin has been isolated as the toxic fraction." Glutenin is also toxic, and Columbia University's Celiac Research Center has identified five more categories of wheat proteins that are toxic to celiac patients. Gliadin is paired with a carbohydrate in the endosperm of wheat, which is in the interior of the “berriesâ€. However, all that rolling around and rubbing the oats with the wheat and barley, shedding exterior proteins before they are removed, surely exposes the consumers of Cheerios to more wheat toxins than are indicated by the percentage of Gluten in the product.

    It is interesting that you just cited a scientific study to try to prove a point about the "great ignorance of the medical and scientific community." Putting that aside, you may be right. It is possible that there are other toxic factors beyond gliadin, including glutenin. But we will need solid data from studies by medical researchers and scientists to know for sure. If that happens, we will doubtless look to that information to help establish some sort of standard for allowable glutenin levels. In the mean time, we need to base food standards on available science. Current science says that the vast majority of people with celiac disease can tolerate gluten levels below 20 ppm, and that those people experience gut healing and symptom relieve at those levels.

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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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