Labelling of 'gluten free' foods
Around 1% of people in the UK are intolerant to gluten (often referred to as coeliac disease) and need to avoid foods containing gluten to prevent potentially serious health effects. This makes labelling claims about gluten in foods an important issue.
In recent years the number of products marketed to people with gluten intolerance (coeliacs) has increased rapidly, but there has been no rules to control the levels of gluten in these products, and the amounts of gluten in them can therefore vary.
The European Commission, using recent internationally recognised scientific evidence, has introduced compositional and labelling standards (Commission Regulation (EC) No. 41/2009) that set levels of gluten for foods claiming to be either 'gluten-free' or 'very low gluten'. These levels are:
- 'gluten-free': at 20 parts per million of gluten or less
- 'very low gluten': at 100 parts per million of gluten or less - however, only foods with cereal ingredients that have been specially processed to remove the gluten may make a 'very low gluten' claim
The new labelling standards are an important public health measure to help protect the long term health of coeliacs. These labelling standards will enable coeliacs to make informed choices about the foods that are safe for them to eat.
These regulations apply to all foods, pre-packed or sold loose, such as in health food stores or in catering establishments. We have been working closely with Coeliac UK and other stakeholders to find ways to ensure coeliacs can continue to receive the information they need to help them make properly informed choices, particularly when eating out.
The Agency understands that many caterers feel that they are not able to comply with these new compositional standards, due to the high risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen environment and therefore will be unable to label foods as 'gluten free'. Instead, where caterers are unable to justify 'gluten-free' or 'very low gluten' claims and steps have been taken to control cross-contamination, caterers will be able to indicate which foods do not have gluten-containing ingredients, allowing coeliacs to make choices based on their individual levels of sensitivity. This type of labelling would also be permitted on product labels, product lists etc. The Agency therefore sees no reason why caterers will not continue to offer choices to coeliacs.
To help industry and enforcement authorities understand the new rules and encourage the provision of information for coeliacs, the Agency is developing two sets of guidance. One will cover compliance with the Regulations, and the other will give advice on providing gluten information for unpackaged foods. The Agency will also be producing information for consumers to help raise awareness ahead of the rules coming into force in January 2012.
- April 2008: Commission publish a draft proposal to align EU law with Codex Standard
- July 2008: Adoption of International Codex Standard for foods for special dietary use for persons intolerant to gluten
- July 2008: Agency conduct public consultation on draft Commission Regulation
- January 2009: Adoption of Commission Regulation
- November 2009: Agency conduct public consultation on draft UK Statutory Instrument and guidance notes
- March 2010: Stakeholder meeting with Coeliac UK and caterers
- September 2010: Publish Statutory Instrument and guidance to compliance
- Autumn 2010: e-working group to draft guidance on providing gluten information for foods sold unpackaged
- January 2011: Publish guidance on providing gluten information for foods sold unpackaged and disseminate consumer information
- 1 January 2012: Regulations come into force