Gluten standards in firing line

Do you have a Gluten Intolerance? You need to be aware, this could affect your health.

Health issue: Coeliac disease causes the immune system to react abnormally to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Photo: Simon Schluter
Australian food manufacturers and suppliers are pushing to increase the amount of gluten allowed in so-called ”gluten-free” foods which thousands of people with digestive problems rely on.
The Australian Food and Grocery Council is set to ask Food Standards Australia New Zealand to relax its standard for ”gluten-free” labelled foods, which states they must have undetectable amounts of gluten.
The lobby group instead wants such foods to have less than 20 milligrams of gluten a kilogram, which would bring Australia in line with British and European standards.
A confidential survey by the council of 98 businesses that either manufacture ”gluten-free” foods or supply them found nearly 80 per cent think the new standard would cut down manufacturing plant costs, including gluten-testing costs, and make it easier to source products from overseas.
Coeliac disease causes the immune system to react abnormally to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats, and causes inflammation in the lining of the bowel. The condition, which affects about one in 100 Australians, can cause diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It also increases the risk of certain cancers including lymphoma and bowel cancer.
Melbourne dietitian Georgie Rist said people who were eating products with no detectable amounts of gluten could experience changes if they were to suddenly start consuming higher amounts. ”This may create fear and confusion amongst the population and could drive individuals to consume less packaged foods and more whole foods from core food groups which are naturally free from gluten,” she said.
Dr Sue Shepherd, another dietitian who specialises in food intolerances, said Australia had to rethink its rule because tests were becoming so sensitive that many of the foods meeting the ”undetectable gluten” standard would soon fail it.
Dr Shepherd said scientific evidence showed traces of gluten below 20 milligrams were not harmful to people with coeliac disease.
But not everyone in the industry is pushing for the change.
Michael Bracka, the chief executive of Freedom Foods and the former boss of Kellogg’s Australia, strongly opposes any changes to labelling standards for gluten-free foods.
”This is not just about consumer honesty and the future of the Australian food manufacturing industry, it is also a health issue. The changes as put by the AFGC are plainly misleading to consumers. We have great concerns and have lobbied the AFGC to tell them we strongly reject the proposal to change the current regulations and testing requirements.”
A spokeswoman for FSANZ said it was working with the AFGC on its application.
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