It is a rather topical argument in Australia at the moment. Coeliac Australia and the Australia Food and Grocery Council are lobbying Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to amend the requirement for the gluten reading to be less than 20 parts per million (ppm) rather than the current less than 3ppm. If FSANZ approve the amendments to the standards then it will go to the government and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for final approval - so it is still a way off.
This article has been written to inform your opinion rather then plug ours so here are the facts.
What does 20ppm mean?
It is .002% or 20 milligrams of gluten per 1 kilogram of food. To put this amount into context, under the new standards (were they to be approved at 20ppm), a 30g slice of gluten-free bread at the upper limit of 20ppm of gluten would acutally contain 0.6mg (.0006g) of gluten. Over a day of consuming the recommended amount of grain (220g) to satisfy a 2400 calorie a day intake you would consume 4.6mg of gluten.
To put that into perspective a 30g slice of regular white bread contains approximately 3,500 mg of gluten. This is 350 times the maximum daily amount that is deemed safe for coeliacs. This means even just a crumb of normal bread is still a more than 20ppm.
The research conducted
Catassi, well known for studies relating to coeliac disease, performed a trial to detect whether trace amounts of gluten are dangerous to those with coeliac disease and what the threshold of prolonged exposure is. This trial was conducted with people diagnosed with coeliac disease and following a strict gluten free diet for 2 or more years. The participants were provided with capsules containing 0, 10, or 50mg of gluten, they maintained a strict gluten-free diet consuming only gluten-free cereal foods containing less than 20ppm gluten. Gluten intake from the diet was estimated to be less than 5mg per day. Researchers found significant villous damage in the group taking the 50mg capsule but no change was found in the group taking the 10mg capsule.
What does the study mean for people with coeliac disease?
A person would have to consume much more grain than what is recommended in a balanced diet, at the 20ppm, to overthrow the 10mg per day that is deemed safe by Catassi's study. The completion of the study means it has been medically proven that the 20ppm limit is safe for those with coeliac disease to consume. The UK, Eupore and Canada all adhear to the 20ppm standard and the US is in the process of amending their's to be the same.
Who does this effect?
There are currently 1 million Australians on a gluten free diet. Of those, people disganosed with coeliac disease make up less than 100,000 and there is an estimated 180,000 yet to be diagnosed.
What will it change for those on a gluten free diet if the ceiling for gluten free measures is raised to a medically safe level?
- More products in the current market will be deemed gluten free.
- It will be less daunting for those wishing to produce gluten free products.
- More international products will be deemed safe to be imported into the Australian market.
- People may become more lax about cross contamination and having just bit of this or that. Articles and forums can already be found that show people think that they might be able to get their 20ppm for the whole year in one hit, and this is not the case. Those with coeliac disease still need to adhere to very strict dietary requirements to maintain a healthy gluten free diet.
More gluten free food for thought
Concurrent to this debate is also a discussion to drop the measurement to make the standard more stringent. This would see that only products with trace amounts in the parts per billion (ppb) range are safe. Reducing the measurement further could have the following effects on the gluten free food market.
- Meeting these requirements would be financially prohibitive to manufacturers, so we might see products drop out of the gluten free market.
- The products we import today won't be able to come into Australia if the standards were to be reduced to ppb.
- Companies will decide not to enter new products into the gluten free industry because it will be too hard.
- Cottage providers (small businesses run from home) will not be able to engage in the market anymore.
Read and listen to some of the below links about the lobby for 20ppm here to help inform your opinion.
- Coeliac Australia's press release
- 612 ABC Brisbane Radio's interview with Coeliac Australia's President, Hugh Sheardown
- Findings from a study to establish a safe gluten threshold for patients with coeliac disease.
- American resource on 20ppm
Finally if after reading all this information you are not comfortable with the proposed change, you can register your concern by signing this petition