Where Oh Where Has Gluten-Free Labeling Law Gone

I just read that The Food and Drug Administration has warned 17 food manufacturers that 22 of their products have labels that violate federal labeling laws. Most make exaggerated or unauthorized health or nutrition claims.

“Today, ready access to reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food is even more important given the prevalence of obesity and and diet-related diseases in the United States,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said in an open letter to the food industry.

Hamburg in October had encouraged companies to review their labels to make sure they complied with FDA regulations and were truthful and not misleading. Companies that got warning letters have 15 days to tell the FDA how they will correct the labels.

Nutrition labeling is a priority for the FDA, according to Hamburg.

I understand that having accurate label information about total fat in products that contain no trans fat, total juice content in drinks for children, and whether a food can really treat, prevent or cure diseases like hypertension, diabetes and cancer benefits everyone.

But I wonder what ever happened to the poor, forgotten “gluten free” label which has been largely ignored by the FDA even though Congress passed legislation that said it had to be finalized by August 2008. That was 19 months ago – but who is counting. Certainly not the FDA.

The fact that celiac disease is treated solely through the gluten-free diet should give it some priority as a diet-related disease. On top of which, celiac disease is becoming more prevalent as more and more people are getting diagnosed.

The gluten-free definition continues in limbo while experts look at an assessment of studies done on safe levels of gluten for those who have celiac disease. It seems to me they have been looking at it so long it should be memorized by now. Once this endless expert review is complete, the public is supposed to have a chance to comment on the assessment.

Meanwhile, the FDA has also launched what it calls the “Gluten-Free Labeling of Food Products Experimental Study.” Basically, the FDA wants to find out what consumers think about various wording of gluten-free labels. The last we heard of the study was in November when the FDA published comments about who should be included in the study and how it should be distributed in the gluten-free community. The FDA said it will ask major celiac centers to recruit participants through mailing lists and posted flyers. And it set a deadline of Dec. 17, 2009 for commenting further on the collection of information. No more word after that.

So the wait is still on for regulation of gluten-free labeling. Meanwhile, we will have to be satisfied knowing the FDA is more diligently protecting us from misleading and false health and nutrition claims.

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  • I so agree! There is only one way for us to control celiac disease – and that is through safe eating. Proper labeling should be an absolute priority!!

  • Yes, I have been wondering the same thing! I assume the Celiac Task Force is keeping on top of this?

  • Amy

    I think the American Celiac Disease Alliance is keeping an eye on it, but it is really up to the FDA to move it forward.