Gluten-free debate as AFGC pushes for change

  • May 27, 2013
  • Joe Lederman, FoodLegal

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (the AFGC) is proposing that Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) alter the definition of ‘gluten-free’ in Australia. The AFGC wants FSANZ to allow a food to contain up to 20 milligrams of gluten per kilogram to still be called ‘gluten-free’. This would bring the Australian regulation of ‘gluten-free’ claims in line with British and European standards.  Some argue that 10 milligrams per kilogram would be safer for coeliacs.

In Australia, gluten is treated as an allergen under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Food Standards Code). Under Standard 1.2.3 of the Food Standards Code, a food business must declare the presence of any gluten in its food product.

Additionally, where a food product’s label claims that the product is ‘gluten-free’, the Food Standards Code stipulates that ‘the food must not contain detectable gluten’ (in Standard 1.2.7).

Australian regulators take a strict view on the regulation of allergens. Both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (the ACCC) and the New South Wales Food Authority (the NSWFA) have maintained a strict interpretation of ‘gluten-free’ and require that it must be absolutely non-detectable. The consequence of a false claim for gluten-free’ can be a food recall.

Testing methodologies

The Food Standards Code does not stipulate a threshold or a specific testing methodology for ‘-free’ claims, beyond the definition of ‘gluten-free’ requiring that gluten be ‘not detectable’.  Currently, there is no regulation on the testing methodologies used for gluten.

Trying to measure small amounts of material can be tricky. When testing products, some analytical services refer to a Limit of Detection (LOD) whereas others refer to a Limit of Quantitation (LOQ). The LOD is the level at which something can be detected with a level of certainty, while the LOQ is the level at which the amount of that something can be measured with a level of certainty.

As food analysis technologies are constantly evolving, the levels of detection and quantitation are becoming more finite. On the one hand, this allows more certainty in measuring the presence of smaller quantities of a substance in a food product. However on the other hand, testing methodologies have been known to be so finely tuned that the presence of gluten in the air  of a testing facility may be picked up as being present in the food product when in fact that might not be the case. In such situations, certainty could be diminished.


There are important commercial and legal ramifications for the food industry if ‘gluten-free’ claims continue to be defined by lack of detection.

If the AFGC moves were to succeed, some food companies that manufacture ‘gluten-free’ foods may lose their higher price premium for products being marketed outside of the mainstream food market.

Alternatively, a new definition may give coeliacs a wider food choice and do away with unnecessary food recalls.


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12 Responses to “Gluten-free debate as AFGC pushes for change”

  1. Gluten-free debate as AFGC pushes for change | Technology News on May 27th, 2013 5:58 pm

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  2. Genelle Jessop on May 28th, 2013 12:15 pm

    Unless companies have forgotten, coeliac people can NOT digest gluten. Thus they adhere to a gluten free diet, This ensures correct absorption of nutrients that are digested. Are companies not aware of the PAIN that can be cause by gluten. It is agony! This can last for days! gives you diarrhoea, rashes, nausea and vomiting, until gluten has been painfully passed through the digestive tract. If it is believed that more products would be available for coeliac’s, this would be wrong! It would be allowing gluten in products that coeliacs can not digest without discomfort, pain and various other health issues caused by gluten. Why market these products as gluten free if gluten is part of the ingredients, would this not be false advertising?
    As a consumer I am disgusted that this would be allowed, companies clearly have no idea or are not educated.
    A coaliacs immune system reacts differently to gluten that causes small bowel damage every time gluten is digested. It inflames the bowel villi that causes the villi to flatten causing villous atrophy. This reduces that amount of surface area that a coeliac can absorb through nutrients causing malabsorption and gastrointestinal problems. These are just a few.
    I cant believe FSANZ would even consider this as you are playing with peoples health and their lives.

  3. chef-life on May 28th, 2013 12:51 pm

    Well at least the concept that people claim to be unwell due to gluten is now starting to fade away. The fact that products can claim to be gluten free but still contain gluten
    shows the issue of gluten making people fell unwell is just a myth that has been created by very clever marketing in order for companies to sell new products.

  4. chef-life on May 28th, 2013 3:12 pm

    I see know that its coffee that supose to make people fat and irritable on the inside. I supose we will have companies selling bean free coffee soon. Maybe this is the new gluten free trend we have all been expecting. After all the (I cant have gluten ) concept has become boring.

  5. Jenny Speed on May 28th, 2013 3:30 pm

    I think there is a lot of scare mongering going on by a few companies that have a vested interest in the gluten free market. The proposal is based on scientific medical research that has been carried out.

    10 years ago, a product could legally be sold as gluten free containing 30ppm, because that was how sensitive the test was. We all ate the food and had no problems.

    The test has become more sensitive over the years and is now at 3ppm, soon to be 1ppm. We will end up having nothing that will be able to meet this testing standard.

    The AFGC just wants to bring the standard into line with the CODEX standard which is followed by the rest of the world.

  6. Mikk on June 1st, 2013 11:38 am

    So just because it’s ‘hard’ for some to make something gluten-free it should be changed? No. No-one, not chef-life or Jenny can tell me what my gluten sensitivities are and you can not tell me what the long term effects of ingesting gluten will mean for me – and there is NO scientific research on this. Can you both guarantee me I won’t end up with bowel cancer? I know that small amounts may not have outward effects but still my intestines still react. I have coeliac disease…it is not a trend and introducing words like this shows just how dismissive you are and that you can’t be trusted on this topic. “the ‘CONCEPT’ that people claim to be unwell”? are you serious? My blood results were so bad that my GP was under instruction to rule out drug use as the reason for it – no it WAS gluten. And people that do not eat gluten then tell chefs “oh I can have a little bit” – take a look at the above comments and know that you helped this person form his uneducated opinion.
    We did not all eat the food – AND have No problems. And I will not allow an organisation that is only interested in making profit to determine my ok level. Have a look at what ‘the rest of the world’ allow with other food and tell me if you’d be happy to put that in your mouth – Even the US that has no regulation on this say “most companies stick to 20ppm but those that are very sensitive have to be careful”. Do your own research instead of believing info put forward by the AFGC. “the AFGC ‘just want to’…” pffft

  7. chef-life on June 3rd, 2013 10:32 am

    Hi Mikk, I wasnt having a go at people who claim they cannot have gluten, I was just putting the point forward that recent medical evidence has shown its more likely that a person with the symptoms of a gluten free person is really more often due to a lifestyle of overeating and not doing enough exercise. (Gluten has been in food for over 100 years but its only in the past 8 years that this so called gluten free issue has become an issue), Eat less and exercise and the symptoms acctually go away and you can still eat gluten. As for gluten causing cancer, thats another myth created by individuals who are attention seekers.

  8. Ammusionist on June 4th, 2013 10:46 am

    Dear chef-life – troll,
    Thank you for you kind words and superior well-researched wisdom. Next time I have my wife curled up in agony beside me because she accidentally ate something that contained gluten I’ll just say, “Oh come on. Buck up my dear. Chef-Life says it’s all in your imagination. Hey, go for a run – it’ll make you feel so much better.”
    Gluten makes her sick – it’s that simple. We rely on Gluten Free foods to be Gluten Free.
    Do you support truth in advertising, or do you also think a small amount of mercury in our fish should be fine?

  9. Nicholas Green on June 5th, 2013 8:27 pm

    I seriously cannot fathom how they can let this go through. My girlfriend cannot even digest the smallest amount of Gluten shes 22 and weighs 49kg’s because she cannot eat gluten or nuts due to allergies. Yet Chef-Life thinks the correlation is between weight and this allergy. Ever thought Medical research has uncovered the issue rather than drawing the long bow linking it to obesity.

  10. Fiona Williams on August 6th, 2013 7:02 pm

    Coeliac Disease is an auto-immune condition triggered by ingestion of the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, oats, triticale and barley. Individuals with coeliac disease must have a gluten free diet for life – that means no gluten at all, not even a trace. If gluten is ingested, there is serious damage caused to the small intestine, and in some cases to other organs. Individuals with coeliac disease have an increased risk of cancer, especially bowel cancer and lymphomas.
    Individuals with gluten intolerance suffer symptoms after ingestion of gluten such as abdominal bloating, pain, and diarrhoea, but have no activation of the immune system, so it is not a true allergy. The symptoms are very real, can be severe, and are dose dependant (individual dose tolerances vary). Individuals with gluten intolerance do not have the increased cancer risk that coeliacs have if they ingest traces of gluten, and can often tolerate a trace of gluten without effect.
    There is a lot of confusion in regards to gluten in the diet because of the two different categories of individuals – coeliac and gluten intolerant. This is especially difficult for the food service industry, as the first must be strictly no trace of gluten, and the second can have traces. This leads to many cases of “a little won’t hurt” when chefs see individuals with gluten intolerance consume foods that do contain traces of gluten. Those same traces can make an individual with coeliac disease ill for many months. Research appears to be indicating that 20 ppm may be a safe limit of gluten for individuals with coeliac disease, however there is no doubt in my mind that undetectable is the safer option.

  11. gail on September 1st, 2013 5:03 pm

    Chef life cannot be serious can he? I’ll probably get kicked off here but one can only hope he becomes a sufferer or a family member. Keep Australian levels at 0. We don’t have to follow the rest of the world in their 20pp.

  12. Sharon Oz on October 9th, 2013 5:22 am

    Seriously? I speak with coeliac sufferers around the world on gluten free facebook pages, who are asking why they are suffering when they keep strictly to ‘gluten free’ labelled foods listed that way under the less than 20 ppm levels of their countries. If 20 ppm is so safe, why are so many coeliacs in these countries still having adverse reactions? And you chef-life, don’t know what you are talking about! ‘It’s only in the last 8 years it’s become a problem’? Coeliac disease was first identified centuries ago as an inability to process food! From the early 19th century there has been a lot of investigation to find why these people couldn’t process food and died of malnutrition and bowel cancers. During the second world war the Dutch Paediatrician Dicke, noticed that children who suffered from this disease improved during the years when bread was not available then became seriously ill again, when bread was available, thus enabling him to relate the disease with the gluten from wheat & rye. It was in the 1950’s they first started using biopsy to confirm CD. In the years since they have also developed blood tests and also added barley and oats to the list. But in your infinite wisdom, you have decided that all that research and diagnosis pre 8 years ago is fallacy? That comment showed your true level of intelligence or should I say lack of intelligence! I don’t want Australia to raise the levels to less than 20 ppm. I know how sick and how much pain I suffer at the slightest trace of gluten! Keep it at less than 3 ppm! Stop letting the food companies set our standards, FSANZ! I thought our Australian Food Standards was the highest ethical body in the world, unlike the US where the FDA allows whatever the big companies tell them to, with no thought for the safety of the citizens it supposed to be protecting!

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