FDA Finally Defines “Gluten-Free,” Several Beers Fit the Bill

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  • Harvester Brewing Pale, Dark, and Experimental Ale. (Photo: Maggie Hoffman)
  • New Planet Raspberry Ale (Photo: Bon Appetit)
  • New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale (Photo: Gluten Free For Men)
  • New Planet Blonde Ale (Photo: Crown Wine and Spirits)

Good news: the FDA finally told US consumers what gluten-free means. Bad news: it’s 2013 and thousands of Americans have gluten allergies, so shouldn’t this have been figured out by now? Regardless, the final, super-official threshold is 20 parts per million of gluten, as of Friday afternoon. A formal definition of what’s gluten free and what’s just gluten lite obviously has far-reaching effects across the food and dining industry, but it’s particularly relevant to Portland-based Omission Brewery.

Instead of using naturally gluten-free grains like buckwheat (for the uninitiated: gluten is a protein that naturally occurs in wheat, barley, and rye), Omission “uses a scientific process to reduce gluten content down to levels safe enough even for those with mild gluten allergies.” Under previous FDA regulations, Omission wasn’t allowed to bill itself as “gluten-free,” merely “processed,” “treated,” or “crafted” to remove gluten. Now they’re officially as gluten-free as any product that’s literally made from wheat can be.

The problem, Food Republic points out, is that 20 ppm of gluten is 20 ppm more than some severely allergic beer drinkers can tolerate, meaning the FDA’s new definition of gluten-free could lead to misleading or even dangerous packaging. Luckily, there are plenty of 100% gluten-free brews out there, including Harvester Brewing and New Planet Beer. And Omission’s founders have a built-in incentive to stay allergy sensitive: the CEO, Terry Michaelson, has Celiac disease himself. Kudos to the FDA for getting its act together, and Omission for the gluten-free stamp of approval.

[via Food Republic, Beer Pulse]

  • Em

    You are mistaken. The ruling was a defeat for Omission and it still cannot be labeled gluten-free. The FDA declined a request by Omission’s maker, Craft Brew Alliance, to revise the definition of gluten-free in a way that would allow products like Omission to use the label.

    In addition, the FDA explicitly rejected the validity of the test, the R5 competitive ELISA, for use in testing fermented and hydrolyzed products, including beer. That’s the test that CBA uses to back up its claim that Omission does not contain gluten; the FDA says that test is not valid for that purpose.

    The rule EXCLUDES products regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), including Omission beer. FDA will be working with TTB to harmonize their respective labeling requirements on a separate track at a later date.

    The bottom line is that Omission lost this round and still cannot be labeled gluten-free.

  • Erik

    I really don’t get the FDA’s decision. If someone has a peanut allergy, and they labeled a product “peanut-free” b/c it had less than 20 ppm of peanuts in it….people would go crazy. I still think that gluten free should mean gluten free…….this 20 ppm is a joke. There are a lot of people out there that react to this level of gluten…..this was a poorly made decision by the FDA.

  • Erik

    I really don’t get the FDA’s decision. If someone has a peanut allergy, and they labeled a product “peanut-free” b/c it had less than 20 ppm of peanuts in it….people would go crazy. I still think that gluten free should mean gluten free…….this 20 ppm is a joke. There are a lot of people out there that react to this level of gluten…..this was a poorly made decision by the FDA.

  • Michael

    The article is not correct for the reasons that commenter Em has stated.

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