FDA Still Has Not Defined Gluten-Free After 3 Years

May 27, 2011   
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In January of 2007 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a definition for the term “gluten-free,” and three years later there is still no regulation regarding the term. Regulations for gluten-free labeling would help those who suffer from celiac disease, a chronic inflammatory disorder of the small intestine which is triggered by certain proteins known as gluten. Approximately 1 percent of the population suffers from celiac disease. Glutens are naturally present in certain cereal grains and form when wheat flour is mixed with liquid and kneaded. Grains that contain gluten are wheat, rye, barley, cross-bred hybrids, and possibly oats.

Currently, a label with the term “gluten-free” must be truthful and not misleading; however, there is no set definition provided by the FDA. The FDA has proposed that a food which bears the label “gluten-free” must not have more than 20 parts per million or more of gluten, which is the amount that can be reliably detected. The use of the label would be voluntary, meaning foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as milk or water, would not have to bear the label. Foods that would be prohibited from bearing the label are those which include barely, common wheat, rye, spelt, kamut, triticale, farina, vital gluten, semolina, and malt vinegar. Other countries such as Canada, Brazil and the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an joint international FAO/WHO standards organization, have defined gluten-free as having no more than 20 parts per million of gluten present.

Recently, the owner of Great Specialty Products in North Carolina was sentenced to 11 years in prison after he was found guilty of purchasing regular bread and rolls and repackaging them as gluten-free. Dozens of people complained of illness after consuming the goods.

Hopefully, the FDA will not take as long to define the term “gluten-free” as it took the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) did to define the term “organic.” CNN reported in 1997, seven years after the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, that USDA officials had finally drafted a set definition for organic.

On May 4, 2011, activists seeking to pressure the FDA to define gluten-free brought a 13-foot-tall gluten-free cake to Capitol Hill. In the absence of a federal standard, it is buyer beware.

Fuerst Ittleman will continue to monitor the FDA for changes to gluten-free labeling requirements. For more information, contact us at contact@fidjlaw.com.