The government said the investment is intended to help the gluten-free food industry keep up with growing market demand by removing the risk of gluten contamination in grains, packaging materials and bakery products. According to market research organization Packaged Facts, the market for gluten-free products has grown faster than expected, and it valued the market at $2.64bn in 2010 – a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30% from 2006 to 2010.
Announcing the investment on behalf of agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, Member of Parliament Ron Cannan said: "This investment will help provide consumers with the gluten-free foods they need and boost consumer confidence in Canadian food."
The number of Canadians with celiac disease – an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, rye and spelt – as well as those with gluten sensitivity, is estimated at about three million, according to the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA).
The CCA intends to use the investment to work with ExcelGrains Canada, part of the Canada Grains Council, which works on farm food safety; the Packaging Association of Canada; and the Canadian Health Food Association to develop specific controls and tools to prevent gluten contamination within their existing food safety systems.
Executive director of the CCA Jim McCarthy said in a statement: "It's very important for consumers, government and industry to work together to ensure that foods labeled "gluten-free" truly are safe for the consumers who need them. For these consumers, the only treatment is a 100% gluten-free diet, which is very difficult to achieve at present."
The government said that the controls (or ‘modules’) developed as a result of the CCA’s work will be adaptable to other industry stakeholders across the country, to help benefit the entire gluten-free industry, from farm to consumer.
Currently the only treatment for celiac disease is complete avoidance of gluten, but the gluten-free market has also been boosted by a number of other factors, including the families of those with celiac disease also eating gluten-free foods as the food industry has developed more palatable versions, non-celiac consumers finding abdominal symptoms are eased when they eliminate gluten from their diets, and others who perceive gluten free foods to be generally healthier or less calorific (often erroneously).