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General Mills to Remove Gluten-Free Label for Cheerios in Canada

Cereal maker General Mills has announced that it will no longer label their flagship cereal Cheerios as gluten-free in Canada.


Image: CC--Jordan Ferencz

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.

Health Canada, the agency responsible for setting food safety standards in Canada says that gluten levels below 20 ppm are safe for people with celiac disease. That is also the standard for gluten-free products in the United States and the EU.

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

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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.

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11 Responses:

 
Kay2
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
30 Oct 2017 4:52:30 AM PST
I already don't trust Cheerios to be gluten free based on their actions in the US. I won't buy them.

 
Jefferson Adams
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated ( Author)
said this on
11 Nov 2017 1:52:38 PM PST
What "actions" are you referring to?

 
Cindy
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
30 Oct 2017 5:36:45 AM PST
Very interesting. I recently tried the GF Cheerios for the second time. The first time I clearly had a gluten reaction and was not planning to try again. Then I heard about the mistake that General Mills had and decided to try them again in the future. I don't eat a lot of cereal but Cheerios was one of my favorites. When the pumpkin spice flavored ones came out, I figured it was time. I only ate about 10 pieces. My throats felt a little scratchy as I ate them (I have a wheat allergy and Celiac disease). I thought I was imagining it. An hour or so later, I had the familiar sharp pains in my stomach. It did not develop into full blown reaction with diarrhea, but I did not feel well the rest of the day, but that is typical for me with CC.. No more Cheerios for me.

 
Maria Siderius
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingempty Unrated
said this on
30 Oct 2017 2:11:49 PM PST
This makes me mad. I have celiac and it's hard enough reading every label as it is. Unfortunately I did get sick.... vomiting, diarrhea and severe pain and bloating for 3 days.and taking off work. Never thought that a product that carried the "gluten free" label was actually not. Does General Mills know how much damage is done to our bodies by eating gluten?. How is it possible that a huge food company like General Mills miss this with all the "testing" that is supposed to go through. Blows my mind and I would love to have them experience the symptoms we celiacs and wheat allergies feels. Maybe that will open their eyes. A simple article and apology is a start. They need.to get serious about this and take educating of this issue to all levels of testing. Unfortunately I will never eat their product again...trust in this matter is gone and I won't take the risk. Having to be tied to your bed and toilet for days. is not something I would look forward to.... I´ll stick with true GF foods. But thanks for taking the time.

 
Heather
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said this on
30 Oct 2017 3:56:45 PM PST
I can eat oats from dedicated fields and plants just fine but I've had issues every time I've tried the so called GF Cheerios.

 
Sherry
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said this on
30 Oct 2017 7:58:59 PM PST
This article is the clearest explanation of the labeling decision in Canada that I have read -- Thank you. I have two children with celiac disease who eat Cheerios all the time. They have never had a gluten reaction to them, and their tTG levels remain low. We usually have Honey Nut Cheerios, original (yellow box) Cheerios, and a flavored kind of Cheerios such as pumpkin spice, fruity, or strawberry.

 
Lightengine
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
31 Oct 2017 4:14:10 AM PST
There must be reactions to non-gluten substances in Cheerios. Tests that verify less than 20 ppm gluten are simple, easy, and straight forward. So some other substance in oats or in Cheerios processing must be a factor.

 
Karen
( Author)
said this on
31 Oct 2017 9:14:43 AM PST
Oat intolerance (avenin) is fairly common among celiacs, and is could explain why some people feel sick after eating them. High fiber is another possibility.

 
Caroline
Rating: ratingfullratingemptyratingemptyratingemptyratingempty Unrated
said this on
31 Oct 2017 8:42:22 AM PST
"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."... Can we though? They're not changing anything about their manufacturing processes, and whether something is gluten-free doesn't seem to magically change when you cross a national border. A lot of people with celiac disease have complained that Cheerios have made them sick (including basically every comment so far).

 
Jefferson Adams
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated ( Author)
said this on
03 Nov 2017 12:45:43 PM PST
The FDA just conducted tests of major gluten-free products and found 99.5% compliance, with only one product testing above 20 ppm gluten. The FDA noted that the product was recalled and the manufacturer has since fixed the problem. Since Cheerios were likely part of their tests, and since there has been no recent recall of any General Mills product, it stands to reason that Cheerios tested gluten-free. Moreover, the FDA announcement provides strong evidence that American manufacturers are in compliance with gluten-free labeling standards. Basically, if it's an American product that says "gluten-free" on the label, consumers can have a very strong confidence that the product meets FDA standards for gluten-free products. That means that Cheerios sold in Canada will also meet the FDA standard, regardless of the lack of a gluten-free label.

 
Ron
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said this on
31 Oct 2017 9:32:38 AM PST
Great article, and actual factual (excuse the pun). It's nice to see that there are still some media-types with the rare capability of being a truth journalist. My wife is Gluten-Intolerant and has been diagnosed as "highly susceptible to have Celiac disease" (over 33X the norm for Celiac potential). After GF responded to the issues they had in the early days of their GF endeavor, we carefully dipped our toes into the Cheerios pond. We have not experienced any of the symptoms my wife encounters when eating something that has had minute amounts of wheat products in them. The only thing I can say is that some people probably react differently when they are in the grey area between fully Celiac and those who are gluten intolerant but not fully attacked by Celiac disease. We are not professionals in the research and science related to Celiac. It seems, to our laymen's mind, to come down to personal choice. I applaud those who do not wish to dip their toes for fear of an attack, and I also applaud those who know where the line is to be drawn for their body despite the method they use to determine where the line is. Thanks for this excellent article.




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