Thanks to Tricia at the Gluten Free Watchdog for explaining this new piece of legislation for us. According to her blog post, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has produced a policy regarding the labeling for gluten of products under its jurisdiction.

The new policy clarifies which types of product can include gluten-free claims on their packaging. There are a few types of alcoholic beverages that it does not cover — notably, these are beers made without malted barley, and wines and ciders that contain less than 7% alcohol by volume, all of which fall under FDA purview. It also does not cover items made and sold within the same state, which is a bit of a tricky loophole.

The full statement is available here, but what you need to know is that any product falling under TTB jurisdiction and can be labeled gluten-free only if it does not contain:

(1) An ingredient that is a prohibited grain (wheat, barley, rye, or crossbred hybrids of those grains);
(2) An ingredient that is derived from a prohibited grain and that has not been processed to remove gluten;
(3) An ingredient that is derived from a prohibited grain and that has been processed to remove gluten if use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 ppm or more gluten in the food; or
(4) 20 ppm or more gluten.

In other words, a beer that has been brewed with barley — even if that beer has been fermented / processed so that the end gluten content is below 20ppm — cannot be labeled gluten-free if it is sold outside of the state where it is produced. Vodka distilled from grains, or any whiskey/bourbon etc., would be equally unable to include a gluten-free claim.

For these items, the TTB has decided that the statement, “Processed or Treated or Crafted to remove gluten,” may be made on packaging, provided it also includes a qualifying statement, “to inform consumers that: (1) the product was made from a grain that contains gluten; (2) there is currently no valid test to verify the gluten content of fermented products; and (3) the finished product may contain gluten” (quote taken from the TTB Ruling linked above).

The TTB goes further to say that the label must also contain a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product, and that the product must be analyzed with the R5 Mendez Competitive ELISA test and and results must be under 20ppm.

When the FDA releases rulings on gluten-free labeling, that ruling will (so far as I can tell) supercede these TTB statements, which are meant as an interim ruling anyway.

Why is the TTB putting these rulings out? And why have they structured them as they have?

The market has recently seen the introduction of beers that are made with gluten-containing grains, but processed in such a was as to be rendered gluten-free. This isn’t necessarily new — Estrella Daura has been available for years — but it’s fairly new for breweries located within the US. There’s a bit of chatter online that speculates that some of the brewers using only gluten-free grains were less than pleased with the new arrivals. Either way, it can be confusing for consumers.

Additionally, the FDA’s most recent statements, from 2011, acknowledge that the most widely-accepted methods of gluten detection (the R5 ELISA, primarily) fall short when it comes to extensively hydrolyzed or fermented products — so while the TTB’s stance may be a bit conservative, it isn’t without precedent.

Happily, there are newer methods of gluten detection (the G12 ELISA, for example) that are better-suited to identifying toxicity. As the number of studies performed with these methods increases, we’ll likely be able to label fermented items with more confidence.

In the meantime, what do you think of this new ruling? Do you currently purchase alcohols that are labeled gluten-free but produced with gluten-containing ingredients? Will the ruling change your mind?