May is Celiac Awareness Month: Time for Accurate Gluten-Free Food Labeling

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This has been a busy year for my family for a variety of reasons. And, as such, I haven’t been able to share as much as I wanted to on Celiac Family. But, as this is Celiac Awareness month, I’m going to give my best effort to getting more than just menu plans done this month. - Support Gluten-Free Food Labeling1 in 133 –  It’s a Big Deal! I’m starting with a newsworthy event happening in Washington D.C. on May 4, 2011. You may or may not know that the FDA was expected to have ruled on proper labeling of gluten-free products by now. We expected the determination and law to be effective in 2008. Well, it’s now 2011, and we are still waiting for them to make a decision.

Why do we need a labeling law? Well, most importantly, to ensure that products are not being labeled “gluten free” when, in fact, they aren’t. As it is now, the FDA has not made a ruling about what determines if a product is gluten free or not. We who eat gluten free have relied on our own gluten free community to research products and ingredients. And, as a gluten free community, we have questioned companies to tell us about their ingredients and manufacturing processes. We have made progress, but as the community grows, so will the gluten-free food products, companies, and…well…mistakes, mislabeling, and misunderstandings of what “gluten free” means.

The good news is that the FDA did pass the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 which mandates that the top allergens be clearly identified either in the ingredients or in a separate allergen statement. So, that means that if there is any wheat or any derivative of wheat in the product, it must be clearly labeled. Since wheat is the biggest offender contributing gluten to products, that makes it easier for Celiacs to determine the gluten content of food products.

The bad news is that barley, rye, oats, and malt, which also contain gluten, do not have to be clearly identified on the label. In some cases, the label could include those gluten-containing ingredients in “natural flavoring” or other vague listing. To further complicate the matter, a product can have no gluten in the ingredients but still have gluten in the product due to cross-contamination in the processing of it. So, you can see why so many people (including me) feel it is so necessary to have a ruling about what must be on the food labels, and when a company can state that their product is gluten free.

More good news. As part of the FALCP Act of 2004, the FDA was charged with continuing its work on gluten labeling.  SEC. 206. on GLUTEN LABELING states, “Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with appropriate experts and stakeholders, shall issue a proposed rule to define, and permit use of, the term  “gluten-free” on the labeling of foods. Not later than 4 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall issue a final rule to define, and permit use of, the term “gluten-free” on the labeling of foods.”

More bad news. It sounded promising, and certainly seemed like a reasonable amount of time to get it done. The research was done and a proposed ruling was registered in 2007. But still, there is no official ruling in 2011. There have been efforts over the past couple years to try to get the gluten free labeling issue back to the top of the priorities. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much progress from the FDA.

Now what? 1 in 133 is a new effort for bringing the issue back to the forefront. The name 1 in 133 was chosen to emphasize the fact that one in 133 Americans are estimated to have Celiac Disease, making it the most common genetic disorder in North America. (Surprised at that number? Maybe that’s because about 95% of those with Celiac Disease have not been diagnosed yet.)

Taking place on May 4th in D.C. will be the first Gluten Free Food Labeling Summit, an event designed to bring attention to the need for clear, accurate, and reliable labeling of gluten content in food products. The event will feature the building of the world’s largest gluten-free cake. Along with the organizers and other supporters of the event, I hope this enormous cake gets the attention of lawmakers to help us push this effort forward, and finally get a ruling on gluten-free labeling.

What can you do to help this effort? Please visit the website 1 in 133. You can find more information about the organization, the project, sign a petition, and donate money for the cause.

Additional Notes on Food Labeling:

  • This press release from the FDA states “Effective January 1, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requiring food labels to clearly state if food products contain any ingredients that contain protein derived from the eight major allergenic foods. As a result of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), manufacturers are required to identify in plain English the presence of ingredients that contain protein derived from milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soybeans in the list of ingredients or to say “contains” followed by name of the source of the food allergen after or adjacent to the list of ingredients.”
  • The current regulations on food labeling in the US indicate that they are also in the process of making a determination of what “gluten free” means. The proposed recommendation is 20 ppm.
  • For further information on food labeling, you can check the Q&A on the FDA food labeling proposal for gluten.
Categories : Events, Newsworthy



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[…] from her work on the 1 in 133 organization. My family and I were glad to be able to attend the 11-foot tall gluten-free cake-building event in 2011. The event was certainly a big push to get the gluten-free labeling laws noticed, passed, and […]

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