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Australian Celiacs Face Industry Push to Allow Gluten in 'Gluten-free' Foods 07/09/2013 - In Australia, and New Zealand, people with celiac disease currently benefit from regulations that require food sold as "gluten-free" to contain no detectable levels of gluten.

Photo: CC--VintuitiveHowever, that may be set to change, as Australian food manufacturers and retailers push the government agency that regulates gluten-free food to allow gluten to be included in foods labeled ''gluten-free.''

That agency, called Food Standards Australia New Zealand, is facing pressure by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), which wants foods sold as "gluten-free" to be able to contain up to 20 milligrams of gluten per kilogram, thus bringing Australia in line with British and European standards.

The push by AFGC for a new gluten limit has drawn little praise from dietitians, who say Australians with celiac disease and an associated condition, dermatitis herpetiformis, rely on gluten-free foods.

Now, while the Australian standard of "no detectable gluten" in foods sold as "gluten-free" may sound great in theory, it is not without problems.

The standard of "no detectable gluten" means that acceptable gluten-levels will be pushed ever lower as newer, more sensitive tests become available. And such tests are now becoming more sensitive all the time.

Dr Sue Shepherd, a dietitian specializing in food intolerance and gastrointestinal nutrition, says that Australia must rethink its current rule precisely because tests are growing so sensitive that foods currently meeting the ''undetectable gluten'' standard might soon fail to meet standards.

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Under the Australian/New Zealand standard, many foods from EU and the United States are currently not permitted, and any that might meet current standards face the same problem: future standards may disqualify currently acceptable products.

Also, having changing standards and changing products that meet that standard is confusing for shoppers and grocery retailers.

Others worry that changing the current rule will allow unfair competition from imported products. Many of those imported "gluten-free" products are cheaper, in part because lower standards mean higher acceptable gluten levels and lower cost.

Michael Bracka, chief executive of Freedom Foods and former boss of Kellogg Australia, opposes weakening gluten content standards for gluten-free foods.

Bracka fears that weakening standards could result in cheap imports flood Australian shelves and damaging what is currently a very successful local industry. Moreover, he adds, the changes proposed by AFGC are "misleading to consumers."

A spokeswoman for Food Standards said that the agency is working with AFGC on its application and that it intends to consult all stakeholders.

What do you think? Should the standard for gluten-free foods be "no detectable gluten?" What does that mean for food producers? For consumers? For prices? Share your comments below.

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20 Responses:

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said this on
09 Jul 2013 10:20:28 AM PST
I have celiac disease, and have gluten reactions to many products in the US that have the gluten-free label. The companies claim that their products have no more then 20 ppm. However, the US FDA has never made any ruling about what gluten-free on a label actually means. If I eat something gluten-free that 'supposedly' contains less then 20 ppm, and react to it, then trace amounts of gluten makes me sick. And I need products with 'no' gluten at all. Companies are out to make a profit, and don't really give a darn about celiacs, as long as they can sell their products. It's all about their money, not our health.

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said this on
10 Jul 2013 5:46:36 PM PST
I have to agree with DJ. I react to many supposedly gluten-free foods. If I were the Australians, I wouldn't mess with a good thing. I wish the goal for gluten-free food was always zero gluten. If 20ppm is considered safe, does that mean per serving? What if you eat a packaged food that contains two servings? What if several things you eat during the day have 20ppm gluten? There are all kinds of opportunities to get too much gluten.

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said this on
12 Jul 2013 1:28:14 AM PST
As an Australian and mother of a sensitive coeliac, this concerns me as it does many other Australians! Google "gluten free petition Australia" - there are over 19,000 people that have signed that they disagree.

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said this on
15 Jul 2013 4:53:02 AM PST
They have it backwards!!! Australia and New Zealand should be encouraging the US to change to their standards. Yes, DJ they don't care about our health, it's all about the profit for them. I can detect a minute amount of gluten, probably due to the permanent damage to my GI tract, due to the 40+ years of being sick before someone finally diagnosed me. Australia, the US doesn't know what they're doing, why would you listen to them? I buy Australian products whenever I can because of their standards, please, I beg of you, do NOT change!!!

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said this on
15 Jul 2013 10:51:27 AM PST
Maybe both: a totally no gluten "gluten-free" label, and a "low gluten" rating is needed for items with under 20 PPM gluten.

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said this on
15 Jul 2013 11:54:43 AM PST
I live in Australia, but before that I lived in the UK where there is a much broader range of gluten-free products available. The 20 ppm rule presents no risk to coeliacs, who undoubtedly benefit from a global free trade of gluten-free goods to make a much broader range of choices available.
For this reason, standardizing internationally would be a great idea - especially if it means we can start to get codex wheat starch, which is a fantastic gluten-free product.

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said this on
15 Jul 2013 11:34:34 PM PST
I too live in Australia and was horrified when I first heard this news. However, I've since changed my view having heard from my State Coeliac Society that it is supporting this move. I quote from its newsletter last month:
"This standard applies in the UK, Europe and Canada and is soon to be adopted in the USA.
Coeliac Australia supports a change to a gluten free standard of less than 20ppm. Evidence based medical research has found this to be a safe level for people with coeliac disease.
A gluten free standard of less than 20ppm would result in more choice and affordability in the gluten free food market. The high cost of gluten free food is a significant barrier to compliance with the gluten free diet, for people with coeliac disease.
Coeliac Australia currently endorses food products that contain less than 20ppm of gluten. The change proposed by the AFGC is consistent with Coeliac Australia's position on the safe level of gluten in manufactured foods."

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said this on
16 Jul 2013 1:59:07 PM PST
Laith, I do not understand how the greater availability of products with greater amounts of gluten is a good thing. If someone with coeliac is highly sensitive (and you are blessed to not be in this category) he will have even less options. Please do not state that, "The 20 ppm rule presents no risk to coeliacs" as this is simply not true.


said this on
15 Jul 2013 12:02:38 PM PST
I am a celiac and despite a strict gluten-free diet still have issues, mainly with cross-contamination. Could you please tell me which supposedly gluten-free products specifically you have reactions to? Thanks!


said this on
16 Jul 2013 2:09:43 AM PST
It's easier to name the company's that don't contain any gluten in their gluten-free labeled foods. Bob's Red Mill and DeLallo.


said this on
15 Jul 2013 1:32:18 PM PST
I agree! No gluten should mean NO gluten! I also am very sensitive and need to rely on labeling to mean what it says. Maybe we need for the gluten content to be listed by ppm on all packages so there is no misunderstanding, regardless of what country you are in.

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said this on
15 Jul 2013 2:53:09 PM PST
Sue Shepherd has a point regarding the level changing downwards with better testing. Surely that can be satisfied by setting the standard at whatever the detectable level is now (in Australia) as that doesn't seem to be causing a problem. I too have problems with the 'standard' in the US when I visit.

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said this on
15 Jul 2013 3:00:38 PM PST
I agree - there shouldn't be any gluten in gluten-free products.

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said this on
15 Jul 2013 4:27:42 PM PST
Absolutely agreed! We have had problems with sausage and seaweed labeled gluten-free. I'm guessing the seaweed was a problem because of sharing the equipment with soy sauce-containing varieties. The sausage may have been gluten-free when they designed the packaging, then the manufacturer didn't keep up with changes in their spices/spice providers. Plenty of products do not contain gluten. It would be nice if the label were preserved for those products.

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said this on
16 Jul 2013 6:19:39 AM PST
Completely agree with DJ, Sue, Susie et al, Australia should keep its own standard set as it is now, then there will be no confusion with detectable amounts later. Besides, do Australians really want US food imports? I wouldn't touch them with a barge pole, they're full of dodgy additives and GMOs, no thanks.

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said this on
16 Jul 2013 6:55:12 AM PST
Why can't they create labels that indicate the quantity, such as FDA-approved GF=less than 20mg/kg, or no detectable gluten? Then consumers can decide for themselves.

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said this on
27 Aug 2013 4:24:09 PM PST
I come from a family where celiac disease is the norm, not the exception. Some of us react severely to the slightest crumb of gluten-containing foods and some do not. That being said, why would we want to subject our bodies to damage that after time will not reverse and cause us to be at even more risk of cancers of the bowel and other health issues? If a product says it does not contain gluten, it should not. Food processors should not remove this choice from those of us who suffer greatly from gluten ingestion.

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said this on
07 Mar 2014 12:37:39 PM PST
The answer for myself is really simple. Change the rules and I change my shopping habits, I will buy only naturally gluten free food.

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said this on
06 Jul 2014 1:32:16 AM PST
If it does go to this standard everywhere I will just go on a cave man diet. Fruit Veg and meat. Naturally gluten free. Yes, I'll miss out on my treats but at least I know that I am not going to get sick. No one understands what it's like being a coeliac unless you are a coeliac yourself. A simple crumb curls me over for 24 hours and I'm tired and nauseated for the next 48.

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said this on
08 May 2015 6:43:38 AM PST
Gluten episode can leave me in hospital for 5 days on a drip. It could also kill me if I don't get medical help immediately. It is also frustrating that when I arrive in Emergency dept at a hospital they have trouble believing me and it could be upwards of 12 hours before treatment is started. I become so dehydrated from lose of body fluids from what could described as horrific bowel discharge that leaves me breeding. So no I want the standards to stay, that gluten free is truly gluten free.

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