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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Fight Brews Over Gluten-free Beer Standards

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    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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    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?

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    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.

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    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").

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    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.

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    Guest Jake Oldenburg

    Posted

    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.

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    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?

    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.

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    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?

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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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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