Very recently I wrote a post about the gluten-free (allergen) labeling laws – or lack thereof – in both Canada and the U.S. There is a new development regarding the situation in Canada. If you live there or are just curious about the latest news, please read this important information. Check out the new Facebook page to help further this effort to put this much needed regulation into place in Canada. The Ottawa Notebook weighed in on the issue here.
On this side of the border, gluten-free diet dietitian, Tricia Thompson, published the results of her survey titled “What Would You Like Gluten-Free to Mean?” I participated in the survey with 999 other people. It was posted to the celiac listserv and the first 1000 people who visited the link got to share their opinion about what gluten-free labeling should mean. The only thing I can say about the results is that I’m very surprised and a little bit nervous that we’ll never get a decent law passed in the U.S. on this important health issue.
When I was in Europe in 2006, not long after my celiac diagnosis, I did not know that at the time the European definition of gluten-free meant there was 200 ppm (or less) of gluten in a product. When I found shelf stable mini loaf cakes, muffins and other treats at Sainsbury in London I stocked up and ate something from the line almost every day for twelve days. So, either I can personally tolerate 200 ppm or the items were actually much lower in gluten than the standard they had to meet legally.
After that trip, I investigated why the suggested limit in the states was only 20 ppm and found out that it’s been proven that even that minuscule amount can cause damage in some individuals. Hence, statistically the lowest denominator must be used for everyone since there is no test to say I can tolerate 150 or 250 ppm of gluten and my gluten-free friend can only tolerate 50 ppm. Fair enough. I’d rather everyone be able to shop and eat safely, even though it means the products available to me might contain less gluten than would be safe for me. My guess is that most everyone would agree that this is the only way to proceed with a standard for gluten-free labeling.
However, based on the results from Tricia’s survey, it looks like we, as a community cannot agree on a reasonable standard for gluten-free labeling. As Tricia commented “the numbers are a bit striking”. That’s one way to put it. I’d probably go a step further to say the numbers are shocking. Almost 80% of respondents want the standard to be lower than the current suggested guidelines of 20 ppm.
My guess is that a law will either be passed for the 20 ppm standard in the near future or we’ll be waiting several years for a law of any kind to pass. I think if the latter happened, we’d be responsible for losing major ground on this issue when there was no real reason to do so. If we can’t be reasonable, I think we deserve whatever law we get – if we get a law at all. If a loaf of gluten-free bread goes up in price instead of down (due to less competition), we’ll have only ourselves to blame. Another listserve member really put things in perspective. The below commentary from Richard L. says it all and in my opinion, says it best.
I’ll say it out loud, as Tricia sort of did anyway. NO detectable gluten is unobtainable and, if set as the standard for gluten free (which I can’t imagine would ever happen anyway), would result in complete chaos in the GF industry and probably many GF things not being declared GF.
Think of this — we might wish for zero bug parts or rodent hairs per million in our processed food, but it doesn’t happen and it isn’t required by the FDA because the FDA knows it’s impossible. You probably eat bug parts every day. In fact, Ohio University estimates we eat one to two pounds of insects every year without knowing it.
Hopefully, we will not set ourselves back ten years by asking for a gluten-free standard that is simply not reasonable.
*Permissions – Richard L., Celiac Listserve, February 2011.