After years of dithering, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally set a standard for labeling foods gluten-free. Gluten, a substance found in wheat, barley and rye, as well as in foods made from those grains, causes autoimmune reactions in at least 3 million Americans and threatens their health.
Way back in 2004, Congress passed a law mandating a standard for foods labeled gluten-free. Recently, pressure has grown on the FDA to set a standard for labeling, as the market for gluten-free foods has climbed to more than $4 billion a year.
The FDA’s new rule now sets a limit of 20 parts per million of gluten in foods labeled gluten-free. The regulation is no surprise to anyone who has followed the emerging research into gluten and its effects on human health. Many European countries have already adopted the 20 parts per million restriction, and the FDA has long been expected to follow suit.
Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told The New York Times that the rule is “big deal” and that it allows people with celiac, the autoimmune condition caused by a sensitivity to gluten, peace of mind that a food labeled gluten-free is safe for them to eat.
“A gluten-free diet for people with celiac disease is like insulin for diabetics,” Fasano said.
The new rule allows the FDA to seize food that is mislabeled gluten-free and to require product recalls if necessary. This is welcome news for people enduring the effects of celiac who have been sickened after eating mislabeled or unlabeled foods.