About a week ago I promised to post info about agenda item 4 (Gluten Free Food) as dealt with at the meeting of Codex Alimentarius NFSDU (Nutrition and Food for Special Dietary Uses) which was held in September in Berlin Germany. As usual this meeting starts on Monday and continues till Wednesday, Thursday is a day off (time for the secretariat to draw resolutions) and on Friday these draft resolutions are discussed. Unfortunately I wasnt able to stay till Friday. However, the resolutions as discussed on Friday were handed to me afterwards however and I pass them with some corrective changes accepted during that day. For those of you who have no interest in reading this clerical stuff I summarize:
The proposed limits (20) for food gluten-free by nature and 200 for food "rendered gluten-free" will stay between square brackets (so no decision has been made). The same holds for oats, awaiting further toxicological data about its celiac-toxicity it should be considered as toxic. The main obstacle for finalizing the standard is the lack of an appropriate method of analysis. Progress has been made but still not to that extent that enforcing agencies can be satisfied. Maybe we will see some progress in the next 2 years!
Proposed Revisions: Alinorm 99/26, Draft Revised Standards for Gluten-Free Foods (Agenda Item 4):
31. The Committee recalled that the Twenty-second Session of the CAC adopted the Proposed Draft Standard for Gluten-Free Foods at Step 5 while recommending that comments on methods of analysis and on amounts of gluten in gluten free foods should be taken into account when finalizing the standard. The Committee noted that without an appropriate method of analysis it was not scientifically justified to advance the Draft further.
32. The Delegation of Sweden introduced their recent study on gluten determination in foods by an enzyme immunoassay using a monoclonal antibody against omega-gliadin (CRD 33), noting that the detection limit of the method (ref. AOAC 991.19) was about 20 - 40 ppm and the repeatability was acceptable. Some Delegations pointed out that the method presented raised some technical concerns: it was performed only on wheat and due to this, uncertainty exists as regards its applicability to other cereals. There were also concerns about the reproducibility of the method. It measured only omega-gliadin and other gliadins should also be taken into account. The need of further improvement was raised. Spain expressed concern about setting units where no method of analysis is available and not all the different types of gliadins can be detected.
33. The Committee noted that in some cases a proprietary method was the most specific way to detect an analyte, such as in the case of gluten detection. Since Codex had not endorsed these techniques as methods of analysis of Codex, the CCMAS (Codex committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling) should consider this problem.
34. Several delegations suggested that the Committee should ask FAO and WHO to convene an Expert Consultation to address the issue of the level and the method of analysis. Other delegations proposed to consult the CCMAS on this issue. The Secretariat informed the Committee that on the request of the CCFL (Codex committee on Food Labeling), JECFA (Joint expert committee on Food Additives) was prepared to consider the question of hypersensitivity at its 53rd Session (June 1999) and the intolerance to gluten might be discussed in this context. The Secretariat recalled that the role of the CCMAS was to endorse methods of analysis proposed by specialized Committees and the CCNFSDU needed to specify the method.
35. Several delegations and the Observer from the AAC (Association des Amidonneries Cooperative) proposed that the discussion of this draft should be adjourned until a reliable method of analysis became available. Other delegations were in favor of continuing work on it in order to meet the urgent need of the patients suffering from coeliac disease and proposed to advance the proposed draft for a single level of 200 ppm to step 8. Taking into account the absence of an appropriate and accurate method of analysis, it was proposed to maintain the gluten free level at 200 ppm for all foods and to include a new preamble suggesting the a revision of the standard when a method of analysis or new scientific evidence became available.
36. While concerning the proposed definition of "gluten-free" foods, several delegations wanted to point out that the current approach was confusing and misleading the consumer and that the level should be uniform for all foods. However, other delegations and the Observer from AOECS stressed the need for two levels with regard to the naturally gluten free foods and the products which had been rendered gluten free. The Committee noted that the proposed term "gluten-free" might mislead the consumer and recognized that the term "low or reduced in gluten" should be considered.
37. The Observer from AOECS, supported by some delegations, expressed the view that the level of 200 ppm for all gluten-free foods was too high to protect coeliacs and the gluten level should refer only to the end product for better consumer protection.
38. The Delegation of Finland proposed to remove the oats from the list as scientific studies showed that oats can be tolerated by celiacs and allows to provide dietary fibers for coeliacs. The Observer from AOECS, supported by some delegations, stressed that the square brackets on oats should be removed as oats might have negative impact on the health of coeliacs and that the medical experts had not reached consensus on this issue.
39. The Committee recognized that the development of reliable method of analysis of gluten was the key point of this discussion and that the development of the method should be encouraged by all means. Status of the Draft Revised Standard for Gluten-Free Foods
40. The Committee agreed to leave the text of the draft as it was in CX/NFSDU 98/4 and to return it to Step 6 for further consideration. The Committee also agreed that the question regarding the proprietary techniques should be raised to the CCMAS as a general matter.
The following documents were discussed during the meeting: CX/NFSDU 98/4 - Add 1 (Comments from Australia, Spain, UK, AAC, ISDI); CX/NFSDU 98/4 - Add 2 (AOECS); CRD 3 (Uruguay, ISDI); CRD 13 (USA); CRD 21 (Spain); CRD 33 = CRD 42 (Sweden); CRD 44 (India); CRD 51 (Norway).