The term “gluten free” has been in vogue for several years now when it comes to consumer foods. A ruling by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the summer is a positive outcome for millions of Americans in protecting them from devastating dangers of food products that are not truly gluten free.
Celiac disease affects 3 million people in this country. The body’s defense system of those with the disease reacts to gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestine. This can prevent the absorption of needed nutrients, which can lead to a number of health threats, including diabetes and even intestinal cancers.
There is no cure for celiac disease; those who have it can only manage the disease by avoiding foods containing gluten. But without proper labeling, they don’t know which breads, cakes, pastas and other foods to avoid that have dangerous levels of gluten.
The FDA’s ruling sets a legal standard for labeling a food gluten-free, as well as “without gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “no gluten.” Any food product boasting these phrases now must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
This new legal standard will help consumers. For it to be universally effective, however, companies must adhere to it. Unfortunately, there have been instances in which food producers play loose with rules and regulations to help them with their marketing.
For example, Gray, Ritter & Graham earlier this year reached a $7.5 million settlement with a Colorado organic dairy. The firm filed the class action lawsuit on behalf of purchasers of the company’s products, arguing that the company was not adhering to USDA standards for organic foods and alleging that consumers were therefore improperly being charged a premium for the dairy products.
That action was a case of consumer fraud. With the serious threats posed to millions of Americans who ingest dangerously high levels of gluten, any type of negligent behavior on the part of food companies by not following this new FDA rule could be more than fraudulent. It could be fatal.