As of tomorrow, August 4, big changes are coming to Canada’s gluten-free scene.

As the Winnipeg Free Press explains, the new food allergen labeling laws have reached maturity. Originally discussed in 2008 and announced in February of 2011, they are now compulsory.

How else to tell whether your gluten-free pizza is Canadian?

The laws cover more than just gluten, also protecting those with allergies to egg, milk, nuts, etc. And, given that the paper cites a recent study in saying that 47% of study respondents had suffered from an, “accidental allergic exposure due to inappropriate and ineffective labelling,” the law is extremely important.

So what do the new regulations entail? You can read them in full on Health Canada‘s website, but here are some highlights from their June 2012 position paper:

It is prohibited to label, package, sell or advertise a food in a manner likely to create an impression that it is a gluten-free food if the food contains any gluten protein or modified gluten protein, including any gluten protein fraction, referred to in the definition “gluten” in subsection B.01.010.1(1).

Subsection B.01.010.1(1) reads:

“gluten”

(a) any gluten protein from the grain of any of the following cereals or the grain of a hybridized strain created from at least one of the following cereals:
(i) barley,
(ii) oats,
(iii) rye,
(iv) triticale, or
(v) wheat, kamut or spelt; or

(b) any modified gluten protein, including any gluten protein fraction, that is derived from the grain of any of the cereals referred to in subparagraphs (a)(i) to (v) or the grain of a hybridized strain referred to in paragraph (a). (gluten)

Based on the available scientific evidence, Health Canada considers that gluten-free foods, prepared under good manufacturing practices, which contain levels of gluten not exceeding 20 ppm as a result of cross-contamination, meet the health and safety intent of B.24.018 when a gluten-free claim is made.

Based on the enhanced labelling regulations for allergens and gluten sources, any intentionally added gluten sources, even at low levels (e.g. wheat flour as a component in a seasoning mixture which makes up a small proportion of the final food), must be declared either in the list of ingredients or in a “Contains” statement. In these cases, a gluten-free claim would be considered false and misleading.” If, however, a manufacturer using a cereal-derived ingredient includes additional processing steps which are demonstrated to be effective in removing gluten, then the food may be represented as gluten-free.

The paper also explains that, “only those foods that have been specially processed or formulated to meet the needs of individuals, including individuals with Celiac disease, who need to follow a gluten-free diet in order to protect their health, are considered foods for special dietary purposes and are allowed to carry a gluten-free claim,” which I interpret to mean that placing a gluten-free claim on an item that is not ever likely to contain gluten is not permissible (a carton of milk, for example).

When it comes to labeling and CYA statements, the so-called etiquette explains that,

Precautionary labelling should only be used when, despite all reasonable measures, the inadvertent presence of allergens in food is unavoidable. It must not be used when an allergen or allergen-containing ingredient is deliberately added to a food. Furthermore, the use of a precautionary statement where there is no real risk of an allergen being present in the food is contrary to the Department’s goal of enabling a variety of safe and nutritious food choices for the allergic consumer….

Health Canada and the CFIA are therefore recommending that, food manufacturers and importers begin to use only one precautionary statement on food labels: “may contain [X]“ where X is the name by which the allergen is commonly known.

In other words, if you are looking at a food that was made in Canada, or is sold in Canada, you can be reasonably confident that if it says, “gluten-free” it is below the 20ppm threshold. You can also be reasonably certain that it does not contain any undeclared gluten-containing grains. And if it says, “may contain wheat,” you should probably stay away.

On Monday, I’m going to take a look at the Canadian brands you’re most likely to see on US supermarket shelves. But in the meantime, tell me: what do you think of Canada’s new regulations, and what are your favorite gluten-free Canadian brands?