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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set a new standard for gluten-free labels on products. According to The New York Times, health officials claim that this move toward uniformity can potentially help the 3 million Americans with celiac disease in the $4 billion market for gluten-free products.
Congress passed a law back in 2004, in an effort to help those with celiac disease, wherein the FDA set standards regarding how much trace gluten may actually be present in foods with gluten-free labels.
The new standard is essentially fine-tuning the 2004 law. The agency has now set a gluten limit of 20 parts per million for products with a gluten-free label. Discussion of the limit had been in the making for a while now, and many other industries in European countries and Canada have similar limits for trace gluten.
"Gluten" refers to the proteins that occur naturally in rye, barley, wheat, and other hybrids of these grains. For those suffering from celiac disease, ingesting foods that contain gluten can lead to harming the lining of their small intestine. This damage can lead to serious health issues, including osteoporosis, infertility, intestinal cancer, and nutritional deficiencies.
It is also against the law to intentionally mislead customers by mislabeling products as gluten-free.
According to an August federal regulation release, the new gluten rule will become effective in 30 days, while the compliance deadline is August 5, 2014. This may sound contradictory, but while the rule is in effect, the FDA still recognizes that food manufacturers may need time to review their products that may contain gluten. Therefore, these manufacturers will have until August 5, 2014, before all labels must comply with the rule.
The FDA will also allow stickers updating the labels in the interim during this 12-month waiting period, so consumers may expect to come across a package or two with more accurate, FDA-approved updates in the next few months while shopping for gluten-free products.