EU introduces new ‘gluten-free’ regulations

Posted by Editorial on 23rd January 2009

New food labelling and composition rules aimed at helping people who are intolerant to gluten have been published by the European Union, with a tightening of legislation bringing their laws closer to that of Australia’s.

Under the new European Union regulations, only foods that contain less than 20 parts of gluten in a million will be allowed to use the term ‘gluten-free’ on their packaging. Recent evidence has shown that this extremely low level offers better protection for people with an intolerance to gluten, the EU stated. Previously, a food labelled ‘gluten free’ could have contained up to ten times more than this. In Australia, the Food Standards Code requires food that is claimed to be free from gluten to have no detectable gluten present and foods that claim to have a low gluten content to have less than 20 mg of gluten per 100 g of food (200 ppm – parts per million). Consequently, the previously ‘gluten free’ threshold in the EU was equivalent to the requirement for products proclaiming to have low gluten levels in Australia.

In addition, some European foods made using cereals that have been specially processed to remove most of the gluten, but which contain less than 100 parts of gluten in a million, will be able to make the claim ‘very low gluten’ on the packaging. These include substitutes of certain staple foods such as bread.

“Around one per cent of people are intolerant to gluten, and packaging claims about gluten in foods are very important to these people. The number of products marketed to them is increasing rapidly,” Sue Hattersley, head of food allergy policy at the UK’s Food Standards Agency, said. “Without rules controlling the levels of gluten in them, the amounts of gluten could vary greatly, which could cause serious health problems.

Manufacturers can use the new labelling system immediately, but products do not have to comply with the new rules until 1 January 2012.