Fabian Demicoli

Foods suitable for people intolerant to gluten

Directive 89/398/EEC concerns foods intended for particular nutritional uses which owing to their special composition or manufacturing process are intended to satisfy the particular nutritional requirements of specific categories of the population.  People with coeliac disease are a specific group of the population suffering from a permanent intolerance to gluten.

The food industry has developed a range of ‘gluten-free’ products.  Because the removal of gluten from gluten-containing grains presents considerable technical difficulties and economic constraints, the manufacture of totally gluten-free food is difficult.  Consequently, many foods for this particular nutritional use on the market may contain low residual amounts of gluten. 

An increasing number of foods are described in the Community as ‘gluten-free’.  Differences between national provisions concerning the conditions for the use of such descriptions may impede the free movement of foods and may fail to ensure the same high level of protection for consumers.  For the sake of clarity and to avoid confusing consumers with different types of descriptions of products at national level, the conditions for the use of the terms related to the absence of gluten should be laid down at European level.

A revised Codex standard for foods for special dietary use for persons intolerant to gluten was adopted in [July 2008], with a view to enabling those persons to find on the market a variety of food suitable to their needs and to their level of sensitivity to gluten.  These rules should be taken appropriately into consideration for the purposes of this Regulation.

Wheat (i.e. all Tricum species,  such as durum wheat, spelt and kamut), rye and barley have been identified as grains that are scientifically reported to contain gluten.  These grains can cause adverse health effects to persons intolerant to gluten and therefore should be avoided by them.

Most but not all people with intolerance to gluten can include oats in their diet without adverse effect on health.  However, a major concern is the contamination of oats with wheat, rye or barley that can occur during grain harvesting, transport, storage and processing.  Therefore the risk of gluten contamination in oat products should be taken into consideration.

Different people with intolerance to gluten may tolerate different amounts of gluten within a restricted range.  In order to enable individuals to find on the market a variety of food appropriate for their needs and for their level of sensitivity, a choice of gluten-free products should be possible among products with different gluten content.

Foods for particular nutritional uses which have been specially formulated, processed or prepared to meet the dietary needs of people intolerant to gluten and marketed as such should be labelled as “very low gluten” or “gluten-free” in accordance with the provisions laid down in this Regulation.

Article 2(3) of Directive 89/389/EEC provides for the possibility for foods for normal consumption which are suitable for a particular nutritional use to indicate such suitability.  Therefore, it should be possible for a normal food which is suitable as part of a gluten-free diet because it does not contain gluten to bear terms indicating the absence of gluten.  A long as such a statement does not mislead the consumer by suggesting that the food possesses special characteristics when in fact all similar foods possess such characteristics.

For the full text please contact Abigail Mamo on our numbers or on . Comments should reach GRTU by the 10th of July 2008. 

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