Celiac awareness group shows support for FDA gluten-free label rule

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness is promoting the new Food and Drug Administration rule that offers a standard definition for the term "gluten-free" on food labels.

WASHINGTON: The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness is promoting the new Food and Drug Administration rule that offers a standard definition for the term "gluten-free" on food labels.

With the rule in place, any FDA-regulated packaged food advertised as gluten-free "must meet all of the requirements of the definition, including that the food must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten," which is found in wheat, rye, and barley, according to a statement from the federal agency.

The rule kicked in this week, one year after the FDA's proposal, which opened a 90-day comment period and allowed food manufacturers the time to adhere accordingly.

Alice Bast, NFCA founder and president, said the rule gives "a real meaning" to products labeled as gluten-free. She added that manufacturers were previously left to make their own decisions.

Bast said NFCA is working to make sure individuals living with Celiac disease are educated and empowered. The foundation has held two free webinars to explain the disorder.

It’s also important that sufferers "know they have a voice," and can hold manufacturers accountable if they’ve been "glutened," she added. The NFCA encourages people to report mislabeled FDA-regulated food items on celiaccentral.org.

Celiac is a hereditary, auto-immune disorder that can cause small intestinal damage when gluten is ingested, according to celiac.org. The NFCA estimates about one percent of the American population – or 1 in 133 Americans – has Celiac disease. With no cure, a gluten-free diet is the only way to stave off an auto-immune reaction. The gluten-free trend has also caught on among those without Celiac disease who consider it part of a healthy lifestyle.  

To promote the NFCA’s support of the FDA rule, the foundation has leveraged Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, the NFCA newsletter, and media outlets, like the Associated Press, said Bast. She added that she wants consumers to know they have a role in its enforcement.

The NFCA has endorsed the Gluten-Free Certification Program, a process developed and launched by the Canadian Celiac Association which entails annual audits and "goes above and beyond by requiring that manufacturers have validated gluten-free management systems that set a limit at less than 10 parts per million of gluten and even lower if possible," according to the foundation’s site.

Bast said the program is the first cross-border North American certification alliance.

The voluntary rule does not cover items such as pet food, prescription medications, cosmetics, food labeled by the US Department of Agriculture, and beverages regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, said Bast. The foundation is researching gluten in medications, courtesy of a $50,000 grant made by the FDA in 2011.

"On June 25, the FDA issued a guide for small food businesses to help them comply with the final rule's requirements," an FDA spokeswoman wrote in an email. "We will conduct outreach to assist the industry, as needed, to ensure that the provisions of the rule are fully understood."

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