Coeliacs seek review of Australian definition of “Gluten Free”

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 7th February 2012

The organisation representing Coeliac Disease sufferers in Australia is advocating the Australian government revise the “Gluten Free” standard in Australia. The organisation Coeliac Australia had approached both Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the Australian Competition Consumer Commission (ACCC) with the aim of altering the “Gluten Free” standard to “less than 20ppm”. The organisation made a similar submission to the body developing Australia’s national food plan.

In its submission to the Australian government’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) developing the national food plan, Coeliac Australia stated that “the regulation with regard to the definition of ‘Gluten Free’ in relation to food ingredient claims poses a significant burden on the food industry in Australia”.

The organisation advocated the adoption of the internationally accepted definition of ‘Gluten Free’ under the international food standards of the Codex Alimentarius, by which Gluten Free is defined as “less than 20ppm gluten”, and said this would dramatically reduce this burden.

Coeliac Australia also stated that the Codex definition of the term “Gluten Free” under internationally accepted standards had established that “less than 20ppm” is an appropriate and safe standard for European countries. The USA looked at finalisation of a gluten free standard with 20ppm also being the acceptable threshold.

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code defines ‘Gluten Free’ as “no detectable gluten” and “no ingredient derived from oats or malt”. (The latter requirement is related to poor analytical methods for detecting gluten in oats or malt).

Coeliac Australia says the Australian definition causes a problem because the testing methods for gluten have improved dramatically in recent years and the limit of detection in Australia is now 3ppm. So for a product to be labelled ‘Gluten Free’ in Australia, it would need to contain less than 3ppm. Accordingly, products labelled ‘Gluten Free’ in Europe may not necessarily be Gluten Free in Australia.

Coeliac Australia says added costs and constraints are being imposed on manufacturers to comply with the Australian standard such as extra costs for obtaining raw materials, additional costs for machinery that ensure the prevention of cross-contamination, and the added burden of unnecessary product recalls.

According to Coeliac Australia, there was situation where a product in Victoria taken from supermarket shelves for routine audit testing by the Health Department of a local council had shown 8ppm gluten. This led to a nationwide withdrawal of the product being required throughout Australia because of the supermarket’s fear of a false and misleading claim for the ‘Gluten Free’ claim on the package. This was despite the fact that any public health or safety would not have been compromised in the circumstances, because 20ppm would be the real trigger level for an actual health problem arising for sufferers of Coeliacs Disease.