1 in 133 Pushes FDA Towards Gluten-Free Labeling, But It’s No Simple Task

There’s been some pretty big-deal stuff going on in the world of gluten-free law lately.

You may have heard of a movement called 1 in 133. You may have heard rumors of a giant gluten-free cake. A friend of yours maybe forwarded you this article from the Washington Post about how the FDA is dragging its heels on setting up standard labeling for gluten-free food.

Wednesday was a day of action, but it wasn’t the only day of action. You can still get involved in the movement to set up safe labeling practices, and the first step is to get educated about what that means.

In 2007 the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) was responsible for turning labeling of the top 8 allergens from voluntary to mandatory. It’s why you see things like “Contains: egg, wheat, soy” on your packaged food now.

As part of that same act, the FDA was supposed to finalize what could and could not be labeled gluten-free. They still haven’t done so. This is a problem.

The problem itself is a bit more complicated than it seems at first. The biggest question is, “what can be labeled as gluten-free?” The obvious answer is, “foods that don’t contain gluten,” but that’s not practical. Many many foods contain small traces of gluten – traces that are not harmful for most celiacs. In fact, studies have indicated that most celiacs can tolerate up to 50 mg/day of gluten.

Accordingly, the FDA will likely align its final threshold with the international Codex Alimentarius and set the requirement at 20ppm (parts per million). It’s a good base point, although a person who eats a lot of something that tests to 15ppm one day will ingest more gluten than someone who has a tiny amount of something that tests to 25ppm. There’s not really a way around this discrepancy.

The second question is, “what do you do about ‘normal’ foods?” The American Dietetic Association published a study in which 22 samples of traditionally gluten-free grains (think millet, or corn flour) were carefully tested for gluten. Seven of them tested to contain more than 20ppm of gluten.

This is a red flag, because part of the FDA’s proposed law requires anyone who uses, say, gluten-free millet and labels it as such must also say something “all millet is gluten-free.” As the study showed, this is not always true – and it’s misleading for the consumer who will not understand why they are paying more for the “gluten-free” version of a particular non-inherently-gluten-full food.

The third question is, “how do you test for gluten?” Testing for gluten is not always a black-and-white issue, and there are multiple antibodies used to check food for gluten, and multiple methods of applying the antibody to the food in question. As science evolves – which is what science does – there is a fear that the FDA will provide a narrow formula for certifying gluten-free status, and miss out on the latest research.

So, is the push to get the FDA moving a good thing? Yes, absolutely. But given all the subquestions – these are just a few – let’s hope that when the FDA does make their decision, they give careful consideration to all the aspects of changing the law. After all, they’ve certainly had plenty of time to think it over.

2 thoughts on “1 in 133 Pushes FDA Towards Gluten-Free Labeling, But It’s No Simple Task”

  1. Let us give FDA the floor for them to make their decision and I’m sure they will give great aspect of consideration to all particularly in labeling. It’s not just a simple task for them, but a tough one.

  2. The issue here is two fold, and will easily derail our wish to see a gluten-free standard become law. The first is big business. Anything that slows food manufacturing [i.e. verifying ingredients–especially those purchased from different third-party suppliers based solely on cost] is going to be seen as a negative, not to mention the legal liability of getting it right every time. The second is deciding on a standard protocol for what is GF. That should be a no brainer; with several countries having done the work already, you’d THINK that the simplest solution would be to reach out to them and use the same standards without the foot-dragging that goes with endless “studies”. Nope–I think that all we’re going to get out of this is a lot of head-patting and more delays.

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