Are FDA gluten-free guidelines too little, too late?

Doctors say labels still lack consistency


ORLANDO, Fla. – Starting next year, the Food and Drug Administration will require all gluten-free products to limit gluten levels to no more than 20 parts per million.

The new standard aims to bring uniformity to the burgeoning gluten-free industry, which brings in an estimated $4 million a year.

"Over the years, the industry has had such an incredible growth -- the products are so much more than they were 10 years ago," said Dr. Maryam Kashi, a gastroenterologist at Florida Hospital.

Entire sections of stores are dedicated to gluten-free products but there is little consistency in the labels on packaging.

Some products read "gluten free" while others display "gluten and wheat free."

 There are a variety of brands and manufacturers creating gluten free products, some like Mueller's and Blue Diamond that also produce products with wheat in their facilities.

 These brands disclaim that on their packaging, while others like the aptly named ‘Glutino' do not give any reassurances on the back of the product.

 Some products do volunteer information that they have tested the product to certify that gluten levels do not exceed 20 parts per million.

 "The 20 parts per million is the best labeling, usually you can find that on the back -- but that doesn't mean that the others are not," said Dr. Kashi.

 Even though doctors are elated to see a standard in the industry, some say it has taken too long for it to get put into place.

 "The regulation process is very slow in the United States.  It took nine years to get a gluten-free label out," said Dr. Karoly Horvath, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

Horvath said the European countries have a uniform symbol indicating that the product is free of gluten, and he thinks the same thing should be available on products in the United States.

"Small kids even, three or four years old, they know about celiac disease, they cannot read even but they know if I see this food item can be used," said Horvath.

Companies have a year to comply with the new FDA standard but even after it goes into effect there will be very little checks to see if products are in compliance.

The FDA can seize products whose gluten level is above the limit or require companies to recall products. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Horvath said to look for products with the celiac's foundation seal as an added reassurance.  The group also provides a listing of manufacturers who create gluten-free products.