A few weeks ago, I sent a letter to my local congressperson through the American Celiac Disease Alliance (ACDA) regarding the FDA and its labeling standards for gluten-free food and medicine. (Yes unfortunately, not all medicine is gluten-free.) I was very happy to receive a positive email back from Congressman Scott Garrett on the topic, and I wanted to share it with you:
Thank you for contacting me regarding labeling standards for gluten-free food products. I welcome the opportunity to respond to you.
To begin, I appreciate your advocacy on behalf of those with dietary gluten restrictions. As you know, "gluten" refers to a specific complex protein that is contained in wheat, barley, and rye. As of 2009, 1 in 301 Americans have allergic reactions to gluten which sets off an immune reaction that attacks the intestine and can affect the entire body. This condition is referred to as celiac disease. Individuals who are affected by celiac disease have varying reactions to gluten ranging from mild stomach upset to life-threatening nutritional deficiencies. I understand this condition very well since I currently have a Congressional staffer in my District of Columbia office that has celiac disease.
In 2007, the FDA published a proposed rule (72 Federal Register 2817) on "gluten-free" labeling. In the rule, FDA proposed that foods labeled "gluten-free" cannot contain any of the grains wheat, rye, barley, or their crossbred hybrids (e.g., triticale), or 20 parts per million or more gluten. In the proposed rule, FDA committed to conducting a safety assessment on gluten exposure in individuals with celiac disease in order gain more knowledge about how to define the term "gluten-free." The FDA completed the safety assessment, and will develop the final rule taking into consideration comments received on the proposed rule and the findings of the safety assessment.
I believe Congress should ensure that the FDA has the proper rules and regulations in place to ensure products containing allergens like gluten are clearly labeled so consumers can be confident in the safety and quality of their food. We have a responsibility to ensure that consumers have access to appropriate product information, especially when that information can have a direct impact on the health and well being of a consumer. In addition, we need to provide manufacturers with the maximum amount of gluten that a product may contain, if any, to be specified as gluten-free. Otherwise, food manufacturers may make up their own guidelines as to what constitutes a gluten-free product, which is the current industry status quo.
Please know that I will closely monitor the FDA's actions and that I appreciate your views on this issue. Should legislation concerning gluten-free labeling come to the House floor for a vote, I will consider it with your thoughts in mind.
If you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance and are looking for a way that you can also take action and contact your local elected officials, head to this part of the ACDA website to see what the latest "action" activities are.