The current Codex Standard for gluten-free foods only applies to processed products that have been specially prepared to meet the needs of consumers intolerant to the protein.
However, this should be extended to apply also to foods that in their natural form do not contain gluten, according to US preliminary draft positions for the 29th session of the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU), released last week.
This broader scope would better meet the needs of people with celiac disease, said the United States.
"This recognizes that many food products have multiple ingredients, and some consumers may not be able to readily identify which contain only ingredients naturally free of gluten without the provision of 'gluten-free' labeling. It would also provide for 'gluten-free' labeling on foods in which ingredient(s) naturally free of gluten have been substituted for gluten-containing ingredient(s)."
Celiac disease is characterized by an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, rye and barley. The disease has no cure, but avoiding the consumption of gluten can resolve its symptoms and reduce associated health risks.
In January this year the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a proposed regulation on the labeling of gluten-free foods. This proposes a single maximum gluten level of less than 20ppm as part of conditions for a 'gluten-free' claim. Before the ruling is finalized FDA is waiting for additional information from a safety assessment and public comment.
According to the US draft positions, the nation agrees with delegations at the last Committee meeting who indicated that setting two maximum levels for 'gluten-free' might be misleading. It said it supports further consideration of a single maximum level of 20 mg/kg for all types of products as proposed by the delegation of Canada.
In addition, the US proposed that the Committee consider expressing the maximum gluten level for a 'gluten-free' claim on the basis of 'food as sold' or 'food as packaged' instead of 'food ready for consumption.'
This, it said, is because gluten levels based on 'food ready for consumption' could be interpreted to mean gluten levels after a consumer adds ingredients to the purchased food product (for example, adding liquid to prepare a dry cereal grain product), which would affect its gluten concentration.
The US draft positions also support additional clarifying language in the labeling of gluten-free claims for both foods naturally free of gluten and foods rendered free of gluten.
The 29th session of the CCNFSDU will be held from November 12 to 16 2007 in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany.
For the complete US draft positions on the session, click here .
According to the latest figures, around three million Americans, a little less than 1 percent of the population, currently suffer from gluten intolerance, although estimates suggest that 97 percent of celiac sufferers remain undiagnosed and go untreated. Estimates- suggest that the number of known sufferers of celiac disease will increase worldwide by a factor of 10 during the next few years.
An increased diagnosis of the disease in recent years has led to a consequent surge in demand for gluten-free goods. According to a report published last year by Packaged Facts, the market for gluten-free foods and beverages in the US currently stands at almost $700m, and is due to reach around $1.7bn by 2010.
Most gluten-free products are alternatives to traditional grain-based goods, including bakery products, pasta and cereals. These are made with alternative grains and flours, such as rice, corn, amaranth and quinoa.
In 2001, the market for gluten-free products was valued at $210m, and has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 27 percent since then, to reach $696.4m in 2006. The market is estimated to continue to grow at 25 percent per year until 2010.
But despite the strong performance of this sector, and the opportunities it entails, major food marketers have largely not entered the market as yet. According to Packaged Facts, this is because they are reluctant to invest in research and product development until fixed regulations for gluten-free are in place.