Freedom Foods: “gluten-free – should always mean free from gluten”

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 29th May 2013

Freedom Foods is opposed to the Australian Food and Grocery Council (the AFGC) proposition that Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) alter the definition of ‘gluten-free’ in Australia and, as a consequence, lower Australia’s food safety standards.

Freedom Foods says the issue comes down to the simple concept of truthfulness in food labelling. Consumers, like never before, expect food labelling to be accurate and clear with respect the contents or otherwise of the food contained therein. In Australia and New Zealand under existing food standards regulations consumers buying a product that says ‘gluten-free’ on the label can be assured that the product does not contain any traces of gluten.

The current FSANZ regulations require food manufacturers to ensure there is no detectable level of gluten in foods when making a ‘gluten-free’ claim.

The AFGC wants FSANZ to allow a food to contain up to 20 milligrams of gluten per kilogram to still be called ‘gluten-free’. This would bring the Australian regulation of ‘gluten-free’ claims in line with British and European standards. Some argue that 10 milligrams per kilogram would be safer for coeliac sufferers. Freedom Foods takes the view that the current testing requirement of non-detectable levels is the only level at which “free from” can be a legitimate and truthful claim and not be misleading to consumers.

In the dairy industry “lactose free” is expected to mean exactly that – the product is free from lactose and therefore safe for those people who have lactose intolerance to consume. Similarly you cannot have small particles of nuts, such as peanut in products because of the dangers of nut products to sufferers of anaphylaxis.

Freedom Foods believes that the proposal by the AFGC would lead to an inconsistent, misleading and ultimately confusing labelling approach being taken by FSANZ.

The food industry has worked hard to win consumer confidence and changing the ‘gluten-free’ designation will not help to maintain the confidence of consumers.

“The AFGC argues that the current regulations make production and testing of Gluten Free foods cost prohibitive and restrict variety and options for Australian consumers. This is plainly not correct on either position,” said Michael Bracka, CEO of Freedom Foods.

“The Australian Gluten Free market is one of the most developed in the world and compares more than favorably in terms of cost, variety and availability. In terms of costs, there is no cost differential in the requirements for manufacture and testing of products at 20mg per 1kg and non-detectable levels. The process, technical requirements and costs are identical – the production and testing of safe Gluten Free foods require expertise, technical and quality assurance processes and a strong and sustainable supply chain to source appropriate ingredients at all stages of the supply chain,” Mr Bracka said.

“There is no doubt the proposed change to the regulations in this area would risk consumer confusion, and frankly mislead consumers. If a product contains 20mg per 1kg of Gluten yet makes the absolute “GLUTEN FREE” claim, consumers will have every right to ask whether the product contains gluten or not. The current FSANZ regulations are designed to ensure consumers are not misled and are structured to avoid the inevitable doubt and confusion that comes from ambiguous claims,” Mr Bracka said.

“The Australian food industry can ill afford to support a proposal that risks increased consumer confusion and erosion of trust,” he added.

Freedom Foods disagrees with AFGC gluten-free proposals