The agency has said it is seeking comments on proposed labeling changes for gluten-free foods in order to minimize risk and maximize choice for those following a gluten-free diet. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. However, it is usually recommended that celiac sufferers also avoid oats, although they do not contain gluten, as they can often become contaminated with gluten during harvest, milling, processing or transportation.
But a growing body of research suggests that pure, uncontaminated oats do not pose a risk for those with celiac disease.
Currently, the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations state: “No person shall label, package, sell or advertise a food in a manner likely to create an impression that it is a gluten-free food unless the food does not contain wheat, including spelt and kamut, or oats, barley, rye or triticale or any part thereof."
It is therefore not permitted for food manufacturers to label products as gluten-free if they contain oats, even if the oats are pure and uncontaminated with other cereals.
Health Canada has recently reviewed the safety of consuming pure oats, and found that the majority of people with celiac disease can tolerate moderate amounts.
“Current scientific knowledge also suggests that pure oats can be beneficial to those individuals with celiac disease who tolerate it, and its palatability and nutritional benefits may increase compliance with a gluten-free diet,” the agency said.
Health Canada added that any move to change existing gluten-free labeling policy should be mindful and protective of those people with celiac disease who cannot tolerate even uncontaminated oats.
Information on how to submit comments to Health Canada can be found here. The consultation period is due to close on July 11.