FDA Gluten Free Labeling Laws get Changed for the Worst

Gluten-less Gluten Grains allowed in our Gluten Free Food?

Back in March, I wrote about the FDA’s proposed gluten free labeling laws. At the time, while I was still frustrated with the lenient 20 ppm gluten, at the very least I was pleased with the FDA’s decision to outlaw gluten derived ingredients in gluten foods.

This is a huge controversy. Should gluten grain by-products that have had the gluten “taken out of them” be allowed in gluten free products? Can it actually be done in a way that makes it safe?

Some people are OK with this. Others are not, including some who have actually been glutened by gluten grains that supposedly had the gluten taken out of them. But back in March, the FDA was apparently concerned enough about it to make sure it wasn’t included in gluten free foods.

Well as it turns out, the FDA has changed their tune.

The gluten free labeling laws have passed. And see what they changed at the very last minute.

How Does FDA Define ‘Gluten-Free’?

In addition to limiting the unavoidable presence of gluten to less than 20 ppm, FDA will allow manufacturers to label a food “gluten-free” if the food does not contain any of the following:

  1. an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
  2. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
  3. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten

Well well well.

This means that you could be eating wheat and your labels would still say “gluten free”.

This means that, in the eyes of the FDA:

Wheat sandwich bread that has had the gluten “removed” from it

=

Specially formulated sandwich bread with rice, tapioca, teff, etc.

And the gluten free label won’t bother telling you which is which.

Click to read the article about TTB RulingThe interesting thing about this is that it is in direct opposition to another branch of the US government, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Their ruling back in May of 2012 was in relation to gluten free beer, which full article you can read here.

The gist of the TTBs ruling on gluten grain ingredients was in this line, which is a direct quote:

Because products made from ingredients that contain gluten may, despite processing to remove gluten, still contain gluten that cannot be detected using available testing methods, the Ruling distinguishes between products that are made from ingredients that contain gluten and those that are not.

Funny… So why does the FDA allow gluten grain ingredients? Why do they say that the gluten can be removed?

With even the US government contradicting itself, it seems to leave this issue even more muddled than before.

… Or does it?

First off, the TTB ruling was pending FDA labeling. Currently, FDA labeling doesn’t cover beer, but it’s very likely the TTB will adopt the FDA’s standards now that they are official.

But the question is- Why? Why would there be two different opinions on gluten derived ingredients on gluten free labeling, even within our government?

First, we’d have to answer why anyone would want or need to use gluten grain ingredients, even with the gluten “removed” from the products. For this, there are pretty much two answers.

Flavor

Because yes, gluten grains really do taste different sometimes. However, this is far more a problem in beer than any other product. I mean, beer without hops? It’s possible! But it took a lot of creativity and testing for companies to come up with something that tasted like a beer and didn’t include gluten grains.

But remember. Using gluten grains isn’t even allowed in gluten free beer, and it won’t be until the TTB makes their probable changes. One of the few places that it really really matters and it’s illegal right now. It was illegal in the first gluten-related ruling in the US government.

So… What’s the other reason?

Ka-ching! Ka-ching!Money

Yes, money. Gluten grains are cheap. Even “gluten-less” gluten grains are cheap. It’s easy to find them, it’s easy to use them.

So who is the FDA trying to cater to here? The Celiacs who need gluten free? Or the companies who want to sell it to them?

Unfortunately, the answer seems pretty clear. The FDA decided to cast it’s net wider because it could get away with it and it would allow more companies to jump on the bandwagon.

This isn’t for us. It’s for big business.

But this is our health we’re talking about! If there’s any doubt that something could hurt Celiacs, our government shouldn’t be allowing it.

This is making history. It sets a precedence that could take years to overcome. This is what our Celiac kids will be dealing with unless we make a big enough fuss about it and make things change.

I already know where I stand on this issue. The FDA ruling will not change the fact that I see gluten derived ingredients as dangerous no matter what. We do not have enough evidence to prove that this is OK. Therefore no company using gluten derived ingredients in their products and calling them gluten free will be allowed on my list. Ever. My research tells me this is dangerous for the gluten sensitive and that’s who I’m here for. Not for companies who want to sell to a market while using every shortcut they can.

But I’m curious- what does this ruling mean to you? Are you worried about the implications? Would you use a product if you knew that wheat was in it, but had had the gluten “taken out of it”?

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Placed into drawers: Celiac Disease, News

  • Mia

    I definitely won’t buy any products that have had the gluten “removed” from them. I only want products that never have gluten in them to begin with. It doesn’t sound very safe to me and these new rules are now going to make my job of shopping for groceries even harder.

    • Damaris

      I totally agree. I accidentally brought a product that stated it was gluten free and I did not read the fine print so I got sick. I do not know why the FDA would allow this. It seems so insensitive for those that suffer from gluten allergies.

  • Marlen

    Having experienced an episode because the “gluten” was disguised (as in modified food starch) I would hope that gluten free meant gluten free!

  • Iggytanooki

    I am hyper-sensitive to gluten. I discovered it after years of suffering ALL the symptoms – skin to intestines. I resent the business advertising and government double-speak regarding a product that is so very dangerous for me. Like you, I have no idea what can be done once and for all. I just keep trying to eat home-grown and healthy as possible in a government sponsored/supported food-chain.

    • I think your approach may be the only way to really be safe, Iggy. We pretty much do that at our house too! Farmer’s Market shopping, every meal made from scratch and try to avoid any per-prepared foods. Still! I wanna be able to, ‘ya know, buy some beef jerky for a snack and not have to worry whether or not that gluten free label is right or not… It just stinks.

  • Great points and FANTASTIC question… You know I don’t think there is. Just did a search and I’m finding nothing. This is a really new ruling, but /still/. We ought to make one!

    • Vivian

      We really ought too! I knew many people that would sign in here.

      • I’m sure they would! Most people who end up needing gluten free makeup are hyper-sensitive to gluten. I’m gonna bet most of y’all reading this are as upset about it as I am.

        • Irene

          Thanks for sharing this. We need to do something and let our govt know how we feel. I will be signing the petition if you start one.

          Irene

      • MONIQUE Contant

        I would and your brother too, beeing both celiac…

  • MONIQUE Contant

    Awful, having my dad who is dying from celiac disease because he didn’t respect the diet.. and as for myself being celiac since 1997, thought finally to have a break… what a shame

    • LisaandTrixie

      Gastrointestinal cancer or lymphoma are, indeed, major risk factors for us.

  • Tricia

    I’m extremely sensitive to gluten – I’ve had symptoms from eating a single jelly bean from a factory that produced gluten-full candy. But I’ve also had gluten-removed beer and have never gotten sick from it. If manufacturers can create products that actually taste good and won’t make me sick, I don’t care whether it’s because it never had gluten in the first place or because they’ve figured out a way to safely remove the gluten. Either way, as long as I don’t get sick from it, all is well. From my personal experience, the process of removing gluten seems to be effective. Let’s not get paranoid and live in fear.

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Tricia! You are the first person I’ve heard from who is very sensitive to gluten and has had good experiences with “gluten-less” gluten grains. Thus far, we really don’t have any research supporting the idea that “gluten-less” gluten grains can be made safe for Celiacs (or other gluten sensitive folks), so first-hand experience like yours is the best we’ve got.

  • Anne

    I have had both Omission Lager and Estrella Damm Daura beers, both of which remove the gluten and have had no issues whatsoever. Plus they taste like real beer which the others most definitely don’t! Also no problems with blue cheese and the like. Having a husband who has designed instruments for the process control industry (food companies, and utilities and such, mostly) for over forty years, who says that 20 ppm is a very small amount and that it may not be possible to accurately go lower, I am inclined to be ok with the ruling of GF= 20ppm or less. But then, I do not have the severe symptoms that some celiacs have, so I am fortunate and do feel that this will help in terms of being better able to choose GF foods at the grocery store. Best of luck to all!

  • Amy

    Gluten free needs to be FREE of any gluten ingredient OR any ingredient that at any time included gluten!!! Processing is yet another thing I want to stay away from!! Our family has kids with celiac and it is a sneaky tactic that companies are using in order to profit from those who are in demand of gluten free products. I vote NO!! – Amy Markakis

  • Suzann

    I am gluten sensitive but according to my test, the opposite end of of the celiac spectrum (or the furthest away from being celiac). I had to bottles of a gluten free beer (I dont recall which one but I believe it had a red bottle). I was so sick the next day, it was horrible. I could eat a cookie and be better off. I’ve never been a huge fan of beer and even though this one tasted good, I will never drink a gluten free beer again. EVER!

  • Karin

    After being diagnosed with Celiacs, I discovered that I need to be careful, not only with my food, but also with all skin & body products which absorb through my skin. If a label says ‘gluten-free’ it needs to be absolutely GF. It makes no sense that the USFDA essentially turns a blind eye to honest labeling practices (especially when my tax dollars support their agency). There’s a growing number of great GF products made in GF facilities, by companies which understand the needs of Celiacs. The folks who founded and run these companies, many of whom have Celiacs, are filling a growing need. It’s disturbing that the federal gov’t is clearly unable to respect and support this. For those of you not so sensitive to gluten, count yourselves lucky.

  • Ja

    I accidentally gave myself a flare up found out from my last gastro appt endoscope that a face cream I bought had wheat in it even though it said gluten free. So I obviously have now be more careful when choosing products.

  • Sheila

    I would just as soon things be gluten free and not “taken out” type gluten free. I have worked hard to get gluten out of my diet, cosmetics, shampoo etc, so that I can feel better and even a small amount sets be back for weeks. I can’t do gluten free oats, or some other grains that are supposed to be safe to eat. they cross react for me, so I don’t want to take the smallest of chances. I have been eliminating processed foods from my diet, so guess that would be the safest way to go Just eat REAL food.

  • Missy

    Hops are not the gluten part of the beer. Hops and barley are two completely different things. They just get associated because they are both used to make beer. Hops are not barley, they are not any part of the barley plant.

  • Jessie

    I completely agree with you, Gal. Even the tiniest bit of gluten can hurt us! That’s why we try so hard to stay away from it! Now instead of trying to help us, the FDA is hurting us even more. It’s ridiculous. I definitely won’t be buying products that have had gluten “removed” from it. It doesn’t sound safe. Looks like we should start spreading word about this ruling so that more people realize what is going on with their food supply-both celiacs and non-celiacs alike.

  • jayne

    it has taken me years to get diagnosed with celiac finally at the age of fifty, so no I won’t be using anything with the gluten ” removed ” . I thought ” YES now it will be so easy to tell the difference ” and they just made things harder. Thanks FDA

  • norsegrl

    This is tragic, People! I, too, have been “glutened” by gluten-removed products. And, it’s a hooorrriibbbllleee experience!! We all know this, and it’s sad that we will have to spend even MORE time trying to discern what we can or cannot consume. How much of our precious lives have we already spent online and in stores reading labels? I have gone back and forth between aisles, reading labels, looking products up on my iPhone, to no avail! I have nearly been in tears….How about you? Who can relate to this? It’s too common a story, unfortunately. Thanks for reading this post.

  • CJ

    I’m a celiac and have mager issues with gluten. I think this is crazy and will cause more harm then good.

  • Melanie

    I agree that it isn’t right to side with t big companies but I am not super sensitive to gluten so for me this is great news.

  • KatMoss

    I would NOT use a product that had the gluten “taken out of it.” That’s just putting way too much reliance on a company’s ability to do so and to meet the standards. I’ll stick with whole foods as close to their natural state as possible. It’s safer that way and I’m much less likely to get sick. Now what does this do for our ability to be taken seriously by the public? I think it hurts it and will only cause confusion to those who don’t know enough about GF.

    • This is exactly what I’m worried about! Even if properly “gluten-less” gluten grains can be made safe (doubtful!), how EASY would it be for a company to “accidentally” fail to properly test their finished products? And bang badda bing- your previously “gluten free” gluten grains slip in their natural gluten without anyone noticing.
      It’s hard enough to get gluten free foods with ingredients are naturally gluten free, thanks to cross contamination: Do we really wanna place such a delicate and dangerous job in the hands of someone who’s looking at dollar signs and not our health?

  • Shona

    Thanks for doing such good research for us all. I’m not in the states, but everywhere else seems to follow what the FDA do, so it will be interesting to see what happens

    • You’re most welcome! And ugh, I wish they WOULDN’T. The FDA isn’t really a good role model for much of anything anymore…

  • Carolyn

    It isn’t worth the risk to my health. It took too long to feel better to backslide now. It is tough enough to know all of the names that gluten goes by now. I will continue to eat minimal carbs (aside from fruits and vegetables). I have gone the extra mile to use gluten free make-up, skin care, and hair care. Thanks FDA for not caring about our health. Thank you gluten free makeup gal for your help.

  • cristina

    ugh!!!!! this is ridculous…though I have not been tested for celiac (lack of health insurance and I REFUSE to eat wheat to avoid a false negative) I KNOW what wheat and gluten to do my poor body and when I accidently eat it I deal with the horrible consequences.. earlier this year a friend* of ours made a soup even though she knew I could not eat wheat, well hours after eating the soup, feeling feverish and then vomiting my guts the whole night, i found out she used corn starch…that (on the box) stated IT MAY CONTAN TRACES OF WHEAT/SOY ETC!!! I just can’t catch a break and have gotten sick of these companies like Amy’s Puffin’s ETC that make” “gluten free” products but say THESE HAVE BEEN MADE ON A FACILITY WITH WHEAT ETC like really, before celiac there was no demand for non wheat items, and I doubt people are buying non wheat items for taste (unless fad) so they need to STOP MAKING IT ABOUT MONEY and do it for people who truly suffer for food “allergies” its bad enough we have to question/be gawked at when tryingto care for our health!!!

  • Nancy J

    I’m angry – but not surprised – that the FDA continues to cater to big business at the expense of our health. It’s hard enough on those of us who need/want to eliminate gluten from our lives without adding to the guesswork. I’ll be writing some letters – not that I think they will care … they’ve already shown that they don’t!!!

  • Kapri Vander Wall

    I say shame on the FDA because now it will be even harder to find safe food for us to eat. We have not asked people to stop making food with gluten we have just asked that they be labeled correctly so we will not be sick.

  • Islandgirl

    Thanks so much for keeping us updated and clarifying what all this means. NO, my family will NOT be using anything that gluten has been removed. It took years for my daughter and I to be diagnosed and my granddaughter is so sensitive that just a bit of gluten will make her seriously ill for hours or even days. This just makes our grocery shopping more challenging.

  • Melissa

    I finally got diagnosed on my 42 birthday after years of being sent to doctor to doctor. Now that I finally feel whole again I am definitely NOT okay with gluten “removal”. As a consumer I should be fully informed about the food I plan on purchasing. US food manufacturers under estimate Americans. Many of us care deeply about what we put into our bodies. from pesticides to GMO and now this. It has taken so long to feel like myself again. I don’t want to take unnecessary and uniformed risks.

  • Jen MIller

    Sorry if this was already asked / covered… but will the package state that “gluten was removed”? I’m just trying to figure out how it will look on packaging…

    • Excellent question, Jen! As far as I know, they will NOT be stating this. However, the little allergy warning “contains: wheat” SHOULD still be in place. Another reader actually pointed this out to me and I haven’t seen anything that would refute this.

      So hopefully this is the case! 🙂

      • Jen MIller

        Sounds good! Hopefully at least the products we have already trusted will remain trustworthy but I will still be checking labels like crazy!!

        • Heh, I’m also keeping a close eye on the companies in my current list, just in case. Here’s hoping they DO stay safe!