With the FDA moving *g l a c i a l l y* to set gluten-free standards here in the United States, you may be wondering how other countries compare. This January a new rule went into effect across Europe. Foods containing 20 parts per million (20mg/kg) of gluten or less may be labeled “gluten-free” even if they have a wheat, rye, barley or oat ingredient. Foods between 20 and 100 ppm gluten may be labeled “very low gluten.” Interestingly, if the food contains oats they must have been specially produced, prepared and/or processed in a way to avoid cross contamination.
Other than the “very low gluten” label and that last oats bit, this sounds a lot like the FDA’s proposal. That’s because both are based on the Codex Alimentarius, Latin for “Book of Food.” The World Health Organization and the United Nations established the Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1963 to create standards for food, food production and food safety.
It’s a start, but doesn’t sound that great to me. Gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease vary greatly from person to person. Who’s to say how much gluten a Celiac can safely assume? The 20 ppm limit is based (partially on Celiac research, I’m sure, but mostly) on the fact that validated methods of testing cannot reliably detect the amount of gluten in a food below 20ppm. What I’m really looking for is a “gluten-free” label for foods that don’t contain ANY ingredients from the gluten grains – wheat, rye, barley, spelt, etc. and are tested for cross-contamination.
Brazil has the rules I’m looking for – since 2003 all industrialized food and drink must either be labeled “CONTÉN GLÚTEN” or “NÃO CONTÉN GLÚTEN.” I couldn’t find any information about what qualifies for the “NÃO CONTÉN GLÚTEN” label, but in a meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission in August of 2006 Brazil argued against the 20 ppm rule. Instead they argued gluten-free labeling should be for foods “consisting of or made only from ingredients which do not contain any prolamins from wheat or all Triticum species such as spelt, kamut or durum wheat, rye, barley, oats or their crossbred varieties.”
I take this to mean that foods labeled NÃO CONTÉN GLÚTEN in Brazil also consist of or made only from ingredients which do not contain any prolamins from wheat or all Triticum species such as spelt, kamut or durum wheat, rye, barley, oats or their crossbred varieties. Imagine going through the grocery store, clearly seeing “CONTÉN GLÚTEN” or “NÃO CONTÉN GLÚTEN” on all of the products, and trusting that the products labeled gluten-free don’t have any offending grains. AMAZING, right?