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Allergen Labeling Law and it Implications for Gluten Sensitivity

If you’re avoiding gluten, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, which requires manufacturers to clearly identify wheat and its derivatives (along with the seven other top allergens) on ingredient labels, is an amazing help. However, some kinks remain; the biggest areas of concern include

  • How much wheat must be in the product to be subject to labeling requirements: One hundred percent gluten-free is not only unrealistic but untestable, though you can test for 100 percent wheat-free. The new law calls for “zero tolerance,” meaning a product must have absolutely no allergen (in this case, wheat) in it — so even ingredients with the offending protein gluten removed have to be labeled as being allergenic.

  • Overlabeling: Sometimes manufacturers label food as having wheat in it even if it doesn’t. That’s because some interpretations of the new law say that wheat should be on the label if an ingredient’s original source was wheat — even if that wheat is completely gone by the time the product’s processed.

Some foods from gluten-containing grains — like citric acid, glucose syrup, and distilled vinegar (not malt) — are so highly processed that what grain they were derived from doesn’t matter. They are, and always have been, gluten-free after processing (most of the time these foods come from gluten-free sources, anyway).

Some interpretations of the new labeling law may require that companies put wheat on the label if those products were made from wheat; this would lead the consumer to believe the product contains gluten when it actually doesn’t.

Manufacturers can ask for an exemption if they can prove that the ingredient doesn’t cause a harmful allergenic response or if they can provide scientific evidence that the ingredient doesn’t contain allergenic proteins. This may be a challenge, because proving that white bread causes damage for people with various forms of gluten sensitivity, autism, autoimmune diseases, and other conditions can be tough enough. Proving the opposite is even harder.

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