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New FDA rules will clarify labeling regarding gluten content

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As of August 2, 2014, the Food and Drug Administration took a step in a good direction when it comes to labeling of gluten-free foods. (See http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm363474.htm#.U-BNzovHXSE.email.) From this point forward, food manufacturers selling any of their products as gluten-free will have to meet more specific standards. Even though food labeling is, on the whole, still a voluntary procedure under most circumstances, there will now be regulations in existence concerning what can actually be considered free of gluten. Terms such as “no gluten” or “without gluten”, among various ways of expressing the same meaning, are now to be defined in the same manner. In order to qualify as being free of this protein found in wheat and many other grains, the product must have fewer than twenty parts per million (ppm) of gluten in the finished goods.

In order to allow food companies to comply with the new regulation, the federal government is allowing them up to one year from the time of this rule’s implementation to comply. This should also give the companies affected the opportunity to phase out their old packaging more gradually. Considering that there are a lot of products on the market currently which are called “gluten free” despite the fact that they contain not the slightest amount of any grain, one can wonder how these bandwagon-jumpers, for lack of a better term, are going to face the future. For example, some juices which purport to contain only juice also are promoted as being free of gluten. As an advertising trick they are aiming only at pulling in those consumers who are constantly following the latest trend. Many such customers are going along with the recent idea being promoted that a gluten-free diet will cause rapid weight loss. With the low numbers of such products available in the first place, it can be wondered if there are going to be shortages in their availability for those who truly need them, ie., celiac disease sufferers.

Those with celiac disease truly are unable to digest gluten and therefore are those who absolutely must have easy access to gluten free products. Therefore, promotion of the idea, no matter how much validity it may or may not bear, that those without this condition should buy up and consume what they don’t really need is doing a great disservice to true celiacs. A similar situation would be non-diabetics using insulin when it really isn’t necessary. With celiac disease, undigested gluten protein will cause production of antibodies that can harm the intestinal lining, resulting in the inability to absorb nutrients. In turn this condition may cause a number of deficiency-related diseases, stunted growth in children, and has even been linked to intestinal cancer.

It is certainly a good idea for the government to begin focusing more on what can or cannot be labeled as gluten free. Celiac patients deserve to know exactly what they are getting as opposed to being possibly scammed by companies that simply wish to cash in on the latest fad diets by proclaiming any product at all as free of this ingredient. However, no government can regulate common sense; that remains solely in the jurisdiction of consumers. In that regard, people should leave gluten free products, hard enough to find as it is, for those who have a genuine need for such foods and investigate more suitable means of losing weight in accordance with their own health needs.

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