A Lack of Transparency: Where Are All These Oats Coming From?

One of the top trends noted at Expo West this year was an exponential increase in oat-based products. Companies are adding whole grain oats to their products looking to create a more wholesome experience. These same products are being labeled ‘gluten free’ without an awareness or understanding of the oat controversy in the celiac community.

Oats have surpassed the breakfast category showing up in dessert mixes, ice cream, powdered drink mixes, and hot side dishes. These oat-based products could contain either mechanically sorted or purity protocol oats, but the type can’t be determined from the label.

Based on the current supply of purity protocol oats, it seems many of the new oat-based products are being made with mechanically sorted oats grown in fields with wheat containing grains without considering the valid safety concerns surrounding a ‘gluten free’ label.

Where does this leave the people with celiac disease who can tolerate only gluten-free oats? How does one find out where these oats are being sourced when the information isn’t being openly shared? Where is the accountability and testing results? Where is the transparency?

As an Expo West attendee for the past 15 years, registered dietitian Shelley Case has seen a huge growth in the number and variety of gluten-free products, especially in the oat category. “Oat-based beverages and creamers were definitely a hot trend this year” said Case. “I spent a lot of time asking each company about the source of their oats – whether from a purity protocol producer or one that did mechanically/optically sorted oats as well as what their testing protocols were.”

By now, people following a gluten-free diet are adept at label reading, but oats require another level of research due to the optical sorting machines begin used by large manufacturers. These machines are expected to remove wheat and barley seeds from oat seeds based on color, size and shape. But these sorted oats are processed and packaged on shared lines with wheat, one of the main reasons why the process is controversial and isn’t believed to be accurate by the celiac community. Furthermore, sorted oats are grown in fields with wheat-based grains, not in dedicated fields with oats only.

The new fruit and oat breakfast ovals from Enjoy Life Foods are a shining exception. They fully understand the oat controversy and proudly denote the use of purity protocol oats on their packaging. And if you head over to their website, they further disclose that they use organic, certified gluten-free rolled oats grown and manufactured using purity protocols for gluten-free foods.

The experience with Enjoy Life Foods isn’t the standard because many companies either don’t know where the oats come from or know that they test under 20 ppm of gluten and aren’t required to disclose the source of the oats. Processing oats in a dedicated mill is a great first step but knowing and sharing where were the oats were grown and sorted should be the next one. The source of these oats and the testing protocols should also available on the website.   

Because products containing oats can be labeled gluten free and certified by third party organization, gluten-free consumers need to be more diligent than ever to determine the source of the oats for a whole variety of new products.

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