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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    General Mills Draws Fire for Gluten-free Manufacturing Choices

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Image: CC--theimpulsivebuy

    Celiac.com 09/07/2015 - Cereal maker General Mills is facing criticism from some people with celiac disease who say its gluten-free manufacturing practices are unsafe, unreliable, and leave them at risk for adverse gluten reactions.

    Image: CC--theimpulsivebuyA number of celiac disease patients and others with gluten sensitivities are questioning the company's practice of removing wheat, rye and barley from standard oats, rather than sourcing actual gluten-free oats. General Mills' special method for sorting grains allegedly removes any wheat, barley and rye from the whole oats, before they are made into oat flour.

    A group called "Gluten Free Watchdog" has engaged General Mills regarding cross-contamination possibilities during the grain sorting and manufacturing process. The process used by General Mills to sort its oats for the gluten-free Original, Multi-Grain, Apple Cinnamon, Honey Nut and Frosted Cheerios is described in an official blog post.

    Gluten Free Watchdog's concerns include the reliability of testing analysis. General Mills currently uses a sampling method to test the cereal and check that gluten is 20 parts per million (ppm) or less, but Gluten Free Watchdog claims this method can result in uneven results, and that some batches of cereal may actually contain more than the allowed 20 ppm of gluten, although they haven't offered any solid examples that support their theory.

    To its credit, General Mills seems to be honestly engaged in the discussion, and has signaled an openness to sourcing pure gluten-free oats, which would address the concerns of groups like Gluten Free Watchdog.

    What do you think? Should General Mills be using gluten-free oats for their gluten-free products? Is it okay if they use regular oats and special sorting equipment to ensure the final oats are under 20 ppm, as required by law? Share your thoughts below.


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    I'm a very sensitive celiac, that said, I wish every country would adopt Australia's attitude. No gluten means no gluten. Not 20 ppm is ok. My doctor says I'm the lucky one because I know when I've been glutened (and it isn't any fun for months!!!). How do all of you eating this cereal know that you're not damaging your intestines and other parts of your body? I am appreciative of companies that try, but if a product is not made with known gluten free ingredients, in a gluten free facility, my reply is no thank you! My good health and well being is worth more to me than eating any food out in the market.

    This is a common misconception of our regulations. 20 ppm doesn't mean that companies are adding gluten to achieve a consistent 19 ppm level--it simply means that none of their products can test over 20 ppm if they use "gluten-free" on their labels. The problem you have when you keep lowering the threshold will be that no companies will take the risk of putting it on their labels--kind of like how the organic certification movement is playing out--many of the foods I now buy use all organic ingredients, however, they don't have the certification or put "Organic" on their label. If using the term on the label is at all helpful for celiacs they may not want to push for a lower threshold that would make companies stop using the term on their labels.

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    I was so excited to try the gluten free Honey Nut Cheerios. I got so sick, extreme pain. I won't be trying any of the others.

    Did you save the box so that it could be tested for gluten-content? Are you one of the small number of celiacs who also have oat intolerance...which is considered separate from celiac disease?

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    It's a disgrace, I got sick from one bowl of Cheerios plain! You think a huge company like GM would use gluten free oats and celiac standards , I think gluten will vary box to box, my heart breaks for the young kids that might get sick! They just want to be healthy kids and enjoy them without worries!!

    Did you have them tested? Are you oat intolerant?

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    I was so excited to hear that I would be able to eat honey nut and apple cinnamon cheerios again - they were my favorite for a long time. But after hearing more about their "removal process" I'm going to hold out until they develop a more reliable way to make Cheerios gluten free. All it takes is one missed grain to make someone sick. C'mon GM, stop dragging your feet and get some certified gluten-free oats. This "removal" process sounds like the beers who claim to be gluten free by fermentation just so they can jump on the band wagon and cash in on the fad dieters. If you are serious, get certified. Then I will trust you.

     

    Sincerely,

     

    A lifelong Celiac

    Why couldn't one missed grain or the equivalent, end up in so called "gluten-free oats"? I haven't heard a good explanation yet.

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    By nature very large, publicly traded companies must be far more cautious than small companies. This is due to greater liability concerns that come from having deeper pockets. General Mills is not a risk taking company by any stretch.

    Well, just how easy would it be for a member of the public to get actual data on what its manufacturing practices result in in terms of gluten content in products labelled gluten free? I daresay not only not easy--nor nigh impossible--but completely impossible. Aye, tharr's the RUB...

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    This is a common misconception of our regulations. 20 ppm doesn't mean that companies are adding gluten to achieve a consistent 19 ppm level--it simply means that none of their products can test over 20 ppm if they use "gluten-free" on their labels. The problem you have when you keep lowering the threshold will be that no companies will take the risk of putting it on their labels--kind of like how the organic certification movement is playing out--many of the foods I now buy use all organic ingredients, however, they don't have the certification or put "Organic" on their label. If using the term on the label is at all helpful for celiacs they may not want to push for a lower threshold that would make companies stop using the term on their labels.

    I think that is incorrect and a bad perspective. It was the FDA which established the 20 ppm--which for celiacs is too high. This is a bit like saying because Nuns make low gluten Communion wafers, both the Nuns and the Priests are doing right to serve Celiac Catholics the same at Sunday Mass. Harrrruuummph.

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    I suggest that all of you who have gotten sick to follow through with the Claims at the FDA website for Gluten Free. Report the companies and products that made you sick. Start the ball rolling for adherence to the ruling that we fought so hard to get. "Gluten Free" does not mean free of Gluten. Hold their feet to the fire, Report them!

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    Well, just how easy would it be for a member of the public to get actual data on what its manufacturing practices result in in terms of gluten content in products labelled gluten free? I daresay not only not easy--nor nigh impossible--but completely impossible. Aye, tharr's the RUB...

    I'm not sure what you mean exactly here, but it isn't hard to test a box that gave you a reaction. So far I've not heard of anybody doing this.

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    I think that is incorrect and a bad perspective. It was the FDA which established the 20 ppm--which for celiacs is too high. This is a bit like saying because Nuns make low gluten Communion wafers, both the Nuns and the Priests are doing right to serve Celiac Catholics the same at Sunday Mass. Harrrruuummph.

    20 ppm isn't too high according to the bulk of research done on the topic. If you keep changing the bar for companies none of them will participate, and they will all stop putting "gluten-free" on their labels, even if the product is gluten-free. The risk associated with a product recall or lawsuit would just be too great to bother. General Mills just invested millions on a facility to create gluten-free cereal using the 20 ppm standard, if you suddenly change that to 10 ppm they and many other companies won't bother, and the cost of products with gluten-free on the label will skyrocket.

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    20 ppm isn't too high according to the bulk of research done on the topic. If you keep changing the bar for companies none of them will participate, and they will all stop putting "gluten-free" on their labels, even if the product is gluten-free. The risk associated with a product recall or lawsuit would just be too great to bother. General Mills just invested millions on a facility to create gluten-free cereal using the 20 ppm standard, if you suddenly change that to 10 ppm they and many other companies won't bother, and the cost of products with gluten-free on the label will skyrocket.

    So admin, what you are saying is that it is more important to have foods available with up to 20ppm of gluten in them, and that is per serving! So, if someone eats 3 items a day and each has up to 20ppm they are getting 60ppm in that one day! I think my health and the health of all celiacs is more important than getting companies to label their foods gluten free. I'm not the only one out there that can't tolerate 20ppm. We deserve better! As for lawsuits, bottom line is I'm responsible for what goes in my digestive system. There's always going to be someone out there to sue anyone for anything. Also, more recent research that I have read indicates that more celiacs on gluten-free diets are having troubles, hmmmm could that be because 20ppm, which is only a convenience for manufacturers, is really too much??? Do any of the "so-called experts" making these decisions have celiac disease?

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    So admin, what you are saying is that it is more important to have foods available with up to 20ppm of gluten in them, and that is per serving! So, if someone eats 3 items a day and each has up to 20ppm they are getting 60ppm in that one day! I think my health and the health of all celiacs is more important than getting companies to label their foods gluten free. I'm not the only one out there that can't tolerate 20ppm. We deserve better! As for lawsuits, bottom line is I'm responsible for what goes in my digestive system. There's always going to be someone out there to sue anyone for anything. Also, more recent research that I have read indicates that more celiacs on gluten-free diets are having troubles, hmmmm could that be because 20ppm, which is only a convenience for manufacturers, is really too much??? Do any of the "so-called experts" making these decisions have celiac disease?

    You are fully misunderstanding this limit, and how this labeling law works. 20 ppm has been shown in numerous studies to be a safe level for all but a tiny minority of celiacs. The bigger question is do you want companies to discontinue using the term "gluten-free" on their labels altogether? If the standard gets lower that is what will happen...it will backfire on us. Just because we have this regulation does not mean there is any gluten in products labeled "gluten-free," it is simply a regulation that companies cannot break if they want to use this term on their products, and the standard is considered a safe level by our government and most scientists for those with celiac disease. Changing this to zero will not increase your safety, or increase your food choices, it will have the opposite effect.

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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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