Celiac.com 10/27/2017 - Cereal maker General Mills has announced that it will no longer label their flagship cereal Cheerios as gluten-free in Canada.
Has Canada Changed its Gluten-free Standards?
- No, the standard for labeling gluten-free foods in Canada remains same, at up to 20 ppm allowable gluten. Such foods are safe for the vast majority of people with celiac disease, according to both U.S. and Canadian regulatory agencies, the EU, celiac researchers and numerous celiac disease support groups.
Have Cheerios Changed?
- No, the Gluten-Free Cheerios sold in the U.S. are the same Cheerios that are sold in Canada now, and the same Cheerios that will be sold in Canada after the labeling change. Cheerios routinely test below 20 ppm, and are currently labeled as gluten-free in both the U.S., and Canada. Cheerios has not been the subject of a mandated recall in with the U.S. or in Canada, which indicates that the product remains safe for the vast majority of people with celiac disease.
So, Why is Cheerios Changing its Label in Canada?
- It comes down to a technicality over oat testing standards. Canadian labeling laws require manufacturers follow a specific testing requirement for products made with oats, such as Cheerios.
Under that Canadian testing requirement, oat products with gluten levels above 5 ppm, but under 20 ppm are considered "Investigative," a status under which the agency "notifies the regulated party of the result." They then "follow up with the regulated party to determine the source of the gluten." Moreover, the agency advises "the regulated party, such as General Mills in the case of Cheerios, to review their Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and process controls." The agency may require "corrective action."
As a result, cereal maker General Mills has announced that it will no longer label their flagship cereal Cheerios as gluten-free in Canada.
General Mills stands by its testing process and said Cheerios sold in the U.S. will continue to carry the gluten-free label. A statement by General Mills reads: GM:
- "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."
Comments made by both General Mills and the CFIA suggest the decision to remove the gluten-free labels from Cheerios stem from an issue around how products containing oats are tested for gluten in Canada.
According to CBC News, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed that the move by General Mills to remove the gluten-free label was voluntary, and said the company had "informed" the agency of its plans in August.
"This was a business decision made by the company and not a directive from the CFIA," the statement said.
The statement from GM continues: "While Gluten-Free Cheerios products comply with the gluten-free standards in Canada and the United States, we have made the decision to remove the gluten-free label from our Cheerios products in Canada until the government agencies publish a consistent testing protocol for products containing oats. At this time the product is not changing, just the label on the box.
For nearly a decade, General Mills has served consumers with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivities. Since Gluten Free Rice Chex was launched in 2008, General Mills has grown its portfolio of gluten-free products to more than 1,000 items. It is now the second largest provider of gluten-free foods, including seven varieties of Cheerios, in the U.S. The company has also introduced gluten-free products in more away-from-home food outlets like restaurants and schools, and in new regions such as Canada and Europe."
GM spokesperson Mike Siemienas said the company was waiting for "Health Canada and The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) [to] publish a consistent testing protocol for products containing oats," and that General Mills looks forward to labeling the Cheerios products as gluten-free once consensus is reached on a consistent testing protocol."
So, while Cheerios will no longer carry a gluten-free label in Canada, Canadian standards for gluten-free products have not changed, and remain the same as American standards, at up to 20 ppm allowable gluten. The Cheerios sold in Canada are no different than Cheerios sold in the United States, where they will still carry a gluten-free label.
So, only the Canadian label will change. Cheerios will remain the same. On either side of the border, people with celiac disease can continue to enjoy Cheerios with confidence.
Those with oat sensitivity, or who react to high fiber levels, should use their own judgement about Cheerios, as with any other product.