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TOPIC: A Closer Look at GF labeling

A Closer Look at GF labeling 11 Mar 2010 16:57 #621

  • Debra
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I subscribe to Living Without Magazine (love it) and noticed they place a couple really good articles from the magazine- Free on-line.

If you get a chance, be sure and read this very important and informative article regarding "still pending" Gluten-free standard label laws:

A Closer Look at Gluten-Free Labeling (read the whole article)


The number of products designated "gluten free" is exploding. Can you trust every claim?

In late 2008, a newspaper investigation revealed that certain gluten-free products manufactured by Wellshire Farms and specifically marketed to children were mislabeled. As news spread about the faulty designation, parents of food allergic kids became furious—and scared. At least two children with wheat allergies developed anaphylaxis to the mislabeled food and required hospitalization. In addition, countless children with celiac disease were sickened, including 2-year-old James Fourie.

“We had just started him on the gluten-free diet,” explains James’ mom, Stephanie Fourie of Boulder, Colorado. “I cook a lot from scratch but I also rely on packaged foods from time to time, especially when I was first learning the gluten-free diet.”

Fourie had purchased mislabeled chicken bites and given them to James. Within an hour or two, his behavior changed, explains Fourie. He crouched down in a corner of his room and was saying something but he was too young to verbalize how he was feeling. From his body language, it looked like he was having severe stomach cramps.

Trusting the product was properly labeled, it didn’t cross Fourie’s mind that the chicken bites were to blame for her son’s symptoms. When she offered them to James at a second meal, he refused them. At the time, it was frustrating.

“The chicken bites weren’t cheap and I didn’t want to make several different things for dinner,” says Fourie, who has two other small children.

When she read the newspaper report that Wellshire Kids Gluten Free Dinosaur Shapes Chicken Bites, Chicken Corn Dogs and Beef Corn Dogs contained up to 2,200 parts per million of gluten—more than 100 times what celiac experts generally view as acceptable—it was like a light bulb went off. That was why James had mysteriously fallen ill!

Fourie was outraged. She immediately contacted the store where she bought the chicken bites and told them about the mislabeling. But without an official product recall, the store would not pull the products from its shelves.

“It was so upsetting,” Fourie recalls, “I couldn’t stop thinking about all the other parents out there who hadn’t read the newspaper story and were feeding their kids these mislabeled products that were making them sick. Who knows how many kids may have had reactions to the mislabeled food? I was so disappointed that no one was doing anything about it.”

Wellshire Farms has since posted a response to the mislabeling episode on its website. Although the company pointed to contaminated corn batter as the culprit—it's now working with a new batter supplier—Fourie says the experience has made her wary of the gluten-free label. “I’ve lost a lot of trust,” she says.

Cause for Concern
Shortly after the incident with the chicken bites, Fourie began reading up on gluten-free labeling. She was surprised—and frustrated—to learn that currently in the United States, there is no definition for the use of the term “gluten free” with regard to food labeling. Neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees egg, meat, and poultry products, nor the Food and Drug Administration, which covers packaged and most other foods, specifically define the term “gluten free.”

Yet both agencies permit gluten-free labeling, as demonstrated by the increasing assortment of gluten-free foods available. The USDA reviews “gluten free” and other so-called health claims on a case-by-case basis—Wellshire Farms reportedly received USDA approval for its chicken bites in 2001—while the FDA allows manufacturers to affix a gluten-free label on FDA-regulated products provided the claim is “truthful and not misleading.” Generally, if a food labeled “free” of a substance actually contains that substance, the FDA considers the claim misleading.

But this line of reasoning falls short with gluten-free claims.

With other “–free” claims, such as sodium-free or calorie-free, free means zero. But with gluten-free foods, there’s no way to test for zero gluten. The technology just isn’t there yet, says attorney Andrea Levario, executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance (ACDA).

Instead, extremely small quantities—known as parts per million (ppm)—of gluten can be reliably tested. Current analytic techniques can consistently detect 20 ppm of gluten in a variety of foods, including raw, cooked and baked foods. Since celiac experts generally agree that 20 ppm of gluten is a safe threshold for people with celiac disease, many countries have adopted gluten-free standards at or below 20 ppm.

The FDA proposed a less than 20 ppm gluten-free standard in 2006—its first explicit attempt to define the term gluten free—but the agency has yet to finalize it. And the USDA is awaiting the FDA’s decision before moving ahead on the subject.

With the number of products making unregulated gluten-free claims on the rise, the marketplace can be potentially dangerous for consumers with gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy.

And it’s no longer just people with celiac disease buying gluten-free foods, notes celiac nutrition expert Shelley Case, RD. Sales far exceed what the portion of the U.S. population diagnosed with celiac disease might purchase. Consumers are scooping up gluten-free products for reasons that range from weight loss and general health concerns to simple curiosity.

Delayed Regulation
There may be as many as a dozen variations in gluten-free claims, such as “no gluten,” “without gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “no gluten ingredients used.”

Is the purity of a product labeled ‘no gluten ingredients’ the same as one labeled ‘gluten free,’ wonders Fourie. “It’s very confusing.”

She and other consumers aren't the only ones confused. According to a recent FDA report, many food manufacturers would welcome a gluten-free standard to eliminate uncertainty or misunderstanding regarding labeling, as well as to help level the playing field. These companies argue that a standardized definition could assist the industry by promoting fair competition. With a standard in place, all manufacturers would have to adhere to the same labeling requirements.

Why hasn’t the FDA finalized its 2006 definition of gluten free? As part of sweeping legislation known as FALCPA, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, Congress ordered the FDA to define and permit the voluntary use of the term gluten free on the labeling of foods by August 2008. As directed, the FDA issued its proposed gluten-free regulation on schedule but has failed to follow through with a final ruling.

While there has been no official explanation for the nearly two-year delay, Levario speculates that the voluntary nature of the gluten-free regulation could have something to do with it. Because it’s not mandatory, it may not be viewed as an immediate priority, she says. In addition, the 2008 deadline for the final ruling coincided with changing White House administrations.

“It might have been a bit of bad timing,” Levario says.

In November 2009, the FDA announced plans to conduct an experimental study on gluten-free labeling. The agency hopes the study will gauge public perceptions of various gluten-free claims (e.g., free of gluten, without gluten, no gluten), in addition to related statements (e.g., made in a gluten-free facility, not made in a facility that processes gluten-containing foods). While the study will likely provide the FDA with useful information, Levario advises that it may further delay nailing down a definitive gluten-free standard.

hit the above link for the rest of the article
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