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FDA takes closer look at gluten-free labels

Grocery Shopper 
The federal Food and Drug Administration is taking a closer look at how gluten-free products are being labeled and is weighing stricter standards.

The agency has reopened the comment period, which will last through this month, for its 2007 proposal about labeling foods as “gluten-free.” One of the issues the FDA is proposing is that foods labeled as “gluten-free” can’t contain 20 parts per million or more gluten.

The agency is reexamining the issue because, back in 2007, it was difficult to scientifically validate such levels of gluten using the methods and techniques that then were available. Now, according to the agency, technology has advanced and such detections are available.

Such labels are key to people who have celiac disease, which means their bodies can’t tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Celiac disease damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food, according to the FDA.
 
“Before finalizing our gluten-free definition, we want up-to-date input from affected consumers, the food industry, and others to help assure that the label strikes the right balance,” Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, said in a statement. “We must take into account the need to protect individuals with celiac disease from adverse health consequences while ensuring that food manufacturers can meet the needs of consumers by producing a wide variety of gluten-free foods.”

To comment on the issue, click here and follow the directions.

This public discussion is happening as the FDA reportedly is also proposing to revamp food labels in general.

The proposal, according to Associated Press, would offer a clearer (and more realistic) definition of a serving size -- because really, how many people look at a 20-oz. bottle of soda and see 2.5 servings? -- and place more of the label’s focus on calories than on carbohydrates or proteins.

The quest to create a better, clearer label on food products -- and therefore help Americans make better food choices and combat obesity -- has been an ongoing effort by federal officials for eight years. While the FDA has said the proposal wouldn’t be a massive overhaul, officials reportedly have said they want food labels to be more useful for Americans when shopping or eating out.

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-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: A shopper in a Florida grocery store. Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

 
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