FDA Rule Ensures Regulation Over The Term "Gluten Free"

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In recent years, grocery aisles have begun to offer a number of foods that purport to be gluten free.  However, there have yet to be any stringent benchmarks that a food has had to meet before it could make that claim.  That will all change now, though, as the Food and Drug Administration has issued a final ruling as to what actually constitutes a product being gluten-free.

The rule, which will be placed in the Federal Register on Monday, will then go into effect one year from that date.  In that timeframe, all food producers will have to take steps to ensure that their products are meeting the new mandates set forth in the rule.

The new regulations ensure that any product that claims not to contain gluten must in fact have less than 20 parts per million of gluten.  The FDA has chosen this benchmark because it’s hard with any degree of accuracy to measure gluten levels when they are below that level.

This should come as good news for people who suffer from celiac disease, who up until now basically had to rely on the good will of food manufacturers rather than have regulatory assurances that a product didn’t include the ingredient.  It’s widely believed that a person suffering celiac disease would be able to tolerate the trace amounts of gluten afforded by this new cap.  The FDA’s decision brings the United States in line with certain other parts of the world.

A person who has celiac disease, of which it’s believed there are around three million in the United States, could have their small intestinal lining compromised by gluten.  This is due to the body’s natural defenses attacking this lining when the gluten enters their system.  If left unchecked, an individual can develop things like osteoporosis, diabetes, anemia, and cancer of the intestines.

The FDA’s new ruling is meant to protect such individuals from dubious claims made by products that don’t in fact place a satisfactory limit on the level of gluten they contain.  The situation is so out of hand that the FDA estimates as much as 5% of the items currently on the market would exceed the new cap being put in place.

Because gluten derives from such things as barley, wheat, and rye, it makes sense that those types of products will not be allowed to carry a gluten free label.  In order to meet the gluten standard, an item containing any of those ingredients will have to be processed to have gluten removed.  Interestingly, the ruling also allows items that are never in danger of having gluten, such as fruits and eggs, to carry a gluten free label.